Tuesday, August 21, 2007

EVAN ALMIGHTY: Better Than 'Bruce'


Cast: Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, John Goodman and Lauren Graham
Director: Tom Shadyac
Time: 95 mins
Rating: * * 1/2 (out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? First, let me say that "Evan Almighty" is a slightly better movie than its trashy 2003 predecessor, "Bruce Almighty". While the latter was just a vehicle for Jim Carrey to make an ass of himself with his juvenile humour, "Evan" has a proper plot and a rather inspiring message about faith and trust in God. Okay, Christian fundamentalists may argue that God has already made a covenant with Man that He will not flood the world again, but nobody seems to have told screenwriter Steve Oedekerk or director Tom Shadyac. Or even if they knew about it (from Genesis, in the Bible), they must have found enough potential in it for a comedy - even a preposterous one with a plot about the Almighty asking a guy to build an Ark!

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The sequel opens with Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) leaving his job as TV news anchorman after being elected Congressman on a pledge to change the world. He moves from Buffalo with his wife (Lauren Graham) and kids to a mansion in New York. On his first day at the job, he kneels and prays for divine guidance on how to change the world.
God acts in strange ways. Evan soon discovers this when he receives huge deliveries of ancient tools and timber - and finds animals and birds follow him wherever he goes. An encounter with a Man-in-White (Morgan Freeman) comes with a request for Evan to build an Ark - yes, like the one Noah built - and he even gets a copy of 'Ark Building For Dummies'. Of course, Evan thinks that this is all a joke and Shadyac includes a few sequences on how Evan resists this obligation to concentrate on supporting a corrupt and controversial bill of Congressman Long (John Goodman).

GOOD DEEDS & SINS: Shadyac acts in stranger ways. This is essentially a one-joke movie and Shadyac has to resort to applying a few subplots to get the laughs. He sees a need for Evan to appear and dress like the biblical Noah - conjuring scenes of Evan trying to shave off his facial hair and hiding his robes under his jacket and trousers. Other sight gags include a sign that reads "The 40-Year-Old Virgin Mary" (a reference to Carell's "40-Year-Old Virgin"), and an 'Al Mighty' name tag for Freeman's fast food waiter. You are also required to catch the joke in Molly Shannon's real estate agent, Eve Adams.
As the movie nears its climax, Shadyac ups the ante, featuring circus antics as the critters help to build the Ark. Now, where do these tigers, lions and pandas come from? From zoos all over the US? More incredible sights are in the offing when the film-makers fool around with CGI for shots of the boat splashing onto the US Capitol! Americans affected by the September 11 tragedy may not find that scene funny or awe-inspiring.
For comedies, I prefer Carell to Carrey. It is easier to empathise with Carell and although his talents are not properly exploited here, he suits the role as God's foil and even as a hapless victim. Freeman again gives his role a light-hearted touch and it is good to have him back.

THE LOWDOWN: Catch Freeman and the cast hamming it up in the end credits and you will realise that this is just an hour or so of cheap satirical fun. There's nothing to get offended by.


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