You can tell that the makers of the makers of ‘Evan Almighty’ had a lot of spare cash on their hands. Thanks to dozens of production companies, director Tom Shadyac was able to stage a convincingly impressive reproduction of Noah’s Ark and all of the animals who inhabited it. In making the movie funny, Shadyac and screenwriters Steve Oedekerk, Bobby Florsheim and Josh Stolberg succeed more fitfully.In this loose follow up to “Bruce Almighty,” Steve Carell reprises his role as newscaster Evan Baxter. Evan was a minor character in the previous movie, but lead comic Carrey has other things to do. Carell is as rubbery-faced as Carrey, so Shadyac probably figured that Carell’s contortions could keep up with the special effects crew.
Unlike Bruce, Evan isn’t given God’s powers but has the onerous task of building an ark. Without much explanation, the Lord (the drolly appealing Morgan Freeman) demands that Evan and his family complete the gopher wood vessel as directed in the Old Testament.
This would be well-and-good if Evan weren’t beginning his first term in the House of Representatives. The freshman Congressman is having a terrible time because God’s task is dragging him away from sponsoring an important bill being spearheaded by a veteran lawmaker (John Goodman) who is as powerful as he is crooked.
The Almighty is not only jealous of Evan’s time, but he’s also a practical joker. He makes Evan’s hair grow every time he cuts it and forces him to wear an outfit that matches Noah’s in the good book.
And whenever animals do what they do in the woods, Evan is naturally targeted.
As amusing as it might be to a five-year-old, feces gags get a little old with slightly more mature audiences. You’d think that filmmakers who had the gift for persuading predators and prey to walk into a large wooden ship without devouring each other could think of something more creative for the critters to do.
“Evan Almighty” was initially conceived as a separate film under the title “The Passion of the Ark,” but the temptation to tie it with a successful predecessor has overwhelmed the filmmakers to the point where the transition isn’t smooth or logical. Nitpickers will have a field day noting that the previous movie’s smugly obnoxious reporter bears little resemblance to the earnest workaholic congressman.
Carell can still generate chuckles, but his best performance come in movies like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” and “Little Miss Sunshine.” In these comedies, he’s playing off of people instead of special effects and animals. Perhaps if the animals weren’t merely cute props but had personalities, Carell’s gifts could come through more easily.
As Evan’s secretary, Wandy Sykes’ distinctively brash delivery makes anything she utters sound funny. The rest of the cast seem resigned to playing second fiddle to their four-legged costars.To their credit, Shadyak and company do create genuinely awe-inspiring scenes. But it might have been easier to enjoy what is reportedly the most expensive comedy made to date if the filmmakers’ imaginations and wit were equal to their technical finesse and the size of their piggy bank.