Evan Almighty Review
Back in 2003, God - in the form of Morgan Freeman - appeared to Bruce (Jim Carrey) and bestowed all his almighty powers upon him to show Bruce that ignoring those people close to him in search of fame and fortune would ultimately lead to his undoing. Made for $81m and raking in $250m in the U.S. alone, you didn’t need divine intervention to foresee a sequel.
Four years later, with original stars Carrey and Jennifer Aniston jumping ship, Steve Carell is promoted from bit part player in the first film to lead actor in this one. Made on a budget of $175m (yes, you read that right, $175m!!) it has so far pulled in just $96m in America. So what on earth (or in Heaven) went so wrong? How could a film that looked a dead cert for summer box office glory turn into one of the years biggest turkeys? And who at Universal thought that it would be a good idea to stick to the scheduled UK release date and put out a film about flooding, albeit a supposed comedy, when half the country is recovering from real flood damage?
The plot (what there is of it) is simplicity itself. God, in the guise of Freeman again, appears to Carell - now elected as a U.S. congressman - and tells him that a great flood is coming. Not only that, but he has also been chosen to build an ark, into which two of every animal will be sheltered. Cue Carell being followed to work by every animal imaginable, having his facial hair grow at an alarming rate, wearing a biblical gown that Noah himself would have been proud of and dealing with an awful lot of bird poop. And I mean an AWFUL lot of bird poop. It’s as if the scriptwriters engineered a scene where a bird dumps on someone when they were completely bereft of any original ideas, which actually makes it surprising that there isn’t a lot more of it in the film.
This film gets it wrong from the very start, and then has no idea how to put it right. We are supposed to believe that God picks Carell because he prayed for help in changing the world and his family had prayed to bring them closer together. So God doesn’t listen to anybody praying for an end to famine or war? No, because he’s too busy looking after middle America. Carell’s character is putting his name to a bill that will destroy National Parkland, but sees the error of his ways and exposes the real villains in Congress in a way that probably has Al Gore applauding from the wings. This is comedy as eco warrior and religious bible thumper, but if you are going to joke about those two subjects you are going to need a better scriptwriter than Steve Oedekerk, who gave us Patch Adams and Ace Ventura, and a more cutting edge director than Tom Shadyak. Between them they have come up with something that is so bland, and so desperate not to offend, that there is no room for comedy at all. Religion is ripe for comedy, and any director worth his salt would have torn into the subject matter with gusto, add to that the ecological angle and it could have been comedy gold.
All of that could have been forgiven if the film had been loaded with some good gags. But unfortunately there are none to be found. I can’t remember the last time I sat in a cinema watching a comedy with a paying audience and didn’t hear one laugh (even Date Movie generated a couple of giggles). Carell is a great supporting player, as he showed in Little Miss Sunshine, but here he is simply out of his depth, trying to keep an un-seaworthy vessel afloat single handed. Even the big payoff is a letdown. It turns out not to be a proper flood at all, and you sit there wondering why on earth all the animals were shepherded on to the Ark in the first place. All he really needed was a dinghy and a couple of oars. John Goodman, Wanda Sykes and Molly Shannon pop up from time to time as if on the lookout for a funny line, but alas their search is in vain.
This is a prime example of Hollywood “high concept”, where the idea is the “thing”. When will they learn that they need more than a clever idea to make a good film? They need a good script and a director willing to take a chance, and trust that audiences will seek it out. This is corporate movie making at its very worst, and Evan Almighty deserves to sink without a trace and all those involved be made to sit through Groundhog Day on a loop to see just how you turn “high concept” into comedy gold.