Steve Carell has several rare skills: squaring his shoulders, smiling broad, acting sincere, and acting like he thinks we think he’s sincere when he’s not. He’s got the face of a gerbil and the soul of a boy scout. Even as The Office’s loathed boss Michael Scott, he spins the role from a cretin to a deluded fool who swears that up is down and actually believes it. Director Tom Shadyac uses none of these in this tepid follow-up to Bruce Almighty (did I blink and miss that the Jim-Carrey-Is-God flick was the highest grossing live-action comedy ever?).
Carell might as well be a mannequin, or a large carrot, or Larry the Cable Guy. Five minutes in, he’s been bitten in the crotch; in a later montage, he gets more battered than Rocky Balboa. The real star is poop. From birds, canines, more birds, lots more birds, and every animal on the ark. When in doubt, sling it. And given that the total cost of Evan Almighty was over $250 million, that sets a record for the world’s most expensive poop.
So what does the GDP of several small countries get you at the theater? A screenplay so slight and predictable, it should be paired with pajamas and Trix on a Saturday morning. Carell is Evan Baxter, a newsman, husband, and father of three who’s just been elected to congress due to his everyman charm and grandiose promises. (His slogan was “Change the World!”) Playing it safe, it never says what his party affiliation is—in fact, the flick never mentions political parties at all—but as he refuses to give stray dogs water (as handouts teach laziness), Evan must be a conservative. More evidence: his Hummer, his giant but bland Barbie dream house, and, with swaggering Congressman Long (John Goodman), his enthusiastic co-sponsorship of a bill to shrink the national parks. He’s not irreligious, just inattentive: as a religious man, his prayers quote Spiderman. (Baxter must be from one of those alternate realities where politicians don’t have to endlessly flog their faith.)
And then Morgan Freeman—in his preppy East Coast casuals, like God by way of Land’s End—starts stalking Evan with mallets, free wood, animals, and a copy of Ark Building for Dummies, and before you can say “Yahweh,” the congressman is plagued with a beard he can’t shake and a terrible reputation on The Hill. I can see why his aides (including the hilarious Jonah Hill, and Wanda Sykes in her one and only likable performance) hate the facial hair, which they akin to Kenny Loggins.
But when our President Bush speaks proudly of his personal chats with Jesus and claims that God chose him personally to lead us through these troubled waters, I’d think that Evan’s announcement that he’s all buddy-buddy with the Savior would get him promoted. Similarly, the crowds jeering his ark would be quickly overrun by pilgrims who haven’t unpacked their suitcase since the last sighting of the Virgin Mary in a tortilla. But here, Evan’s bewailing of the coming environmental disaster has him sounding like 2006 Al Gore, but getting treated like Gore 2000.
You’d think the appearance of two polar bears in Virginia would make a difference, but all the cash thrown at the animal wrangling and CGI magicians must have scattered down the drain. Shadyac can’t decide if DC does or doesn’t even see the animals. Water buffaloes stop traffic, raccoons chase Evan’s Hummer, and Hitchcock himself never imagined such a torrent of birds, but in half the scenes, none of the extras remember to turn their heads towards the blue screen. For the price tag, we could have had four Jumanjis (not that I’m asking), and still have been spared the sight of Steve Carell in a beard so cheap it looks like he dunked his chin in Oreo crumbs. And not to take easy digs at inflated Hollywood budgets, but by now I’d think producers would, like residents of Amity, avoid the water. With Waterworld and Titanic, Evan Almighty has formed an unholy trifecta.
In my research for this piece (ahem), I checked up on the last poll of Americans who believe in the Old Testament Ark (77.8 percent) and beliefnet.org made me wait for a brief ad—of Evan Almighty. The film knows it needs to get reds and blues side-by-side in the multiplex, so it’s hedging its bets with a comedy that touts the value of “faith” while dancing away from actual theology. For those who love Steve Carell, but have ears that burn at god-talk, it doesn’t even mention the word “Christian.” And you would think if any of the writers had ever picked up a Bible, they’d know that Morgan Freeman isn’t a prankster, but an ill-tempered punisher.
He’s also, apparently, toeing the Creationist party line when he slings an arm around Carell and, gesturing toward a scenic valley, sighs paternally, “I remember when I created this valley.” At least that also makes him an environmentalist, and I do hope that the flick’s saving grace is that it converts a few kid conservatives into animal-friendly recycling. Especially when scientists are reporting that in the last 40 years, sparrows are down 68 percent. The heart does soften at Carell passing his lemonade to a chimp. But I never again want to see his sincere brown eyes stare at the lens and beg, “Repent.”