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Evan Almighty

(2007) ** Pg
96 min. Universal Pictures. Director: Tom Shadyac. Cast: Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Lauren Graham, John Goodman, Jimmy Bennett.

Not since Oh God! You Devil has Biblical comedy been so—oh, I can't even finish that sentence. Let's just say that Evan Almighty is just about as good as Bruce Almighty. If you're still reading, you were either lucky enough to miss out on the first movie, or you don't trust me, since Steve Carell is a darn sight more hip these days than ol' Jim Carrey. You'd be right about that, but do you really want to see Carell neutered in a flat family comedy?

Tom Shadyac's sequel promotes Carell from hilarious supporting actor to mildly amusing leading man. His Evan Baxter, a Buffalo anchorman turned congressman, prays for God's help in changing the world. Before you can say "Jehosaphat," God (Morgan Freeman) begins stalking Evan. The Almighty won't quit until Evan submits to becoming a modern-day Noah by building an ark with his wife (Lauren Graham) and three sons (Johnny Simmons, Graham Phillips, and Jimmy Bennett). Meanwhile, Evan's freshman year on Capitol Hill rapidly goes south, as his staff (Wanda Sykes, John Michael Higgins, and Jonah Hill) and shady mentor Congressman Long (John Goodman) look on in dismay.

All of the plot beats are blindingly obvious, beginning with the obligatory "Dad's too busy to spend time with the kids" storyline. In an attempt to justify this crisis, screenwriter Steve Oedekerk has Baxter trapped reading a multivolume Land Act Bill on a promised family day. And we all know that Congressmen read every word, right? I guess Sykes is too busy coming up with sassy one-liners to read for her boss. The filmmakers can't seem to decide what type of man Baxter is: remarkably responsible, careless and corrupt (to curry favor, he agrees to sponsor the land-grab Bill before he reads it), domestically inattentive, or merely misunderstood.

Admittedly, we're supposed to roll over and play entertained for movies that cost this much, but too little of the humor connects. Hill's role as a creepy suck-up works surprisingly well, but Carell for the first time appears comedically overworked, his only support sartorial (in a running joke, God tests Evan by making his beard grow, hair turn white, and suits disappear in favor of a robe and staff). God's gift of "Ark Building for Dummies" is a particularly musty gag (like God pledging allegiance "one nation under Me"), and the notion of the Biblical verse 6:14 haunting Evan plays like a less-funny version of Carrey's The Number 23. One of Carell's funniest moments is a throwaway gesture of putting a piece of pita bread to his mouth as his wife tries to talk to him—surely a sign of comedic apocalypse.

As for the film's promised apocalyptic flood, the only source of suspense, I will only say that this is a very expensive summer movie. In fact, at a reported $175 million, it's the most expensive comedy ever. You do the math (speaking of math, where's a good cubit joke when you need one?). Evan Almighty takes an unforgivably long time to get going, but stirs some smiles in the second half with mild amusements, corny-sweet sentiments, and an impressive big finish. The presence of swarms of animals—and the montage of Carell falling down and hitting himself with a mallet—will presumably charm wee ones, and God knows the rest will go over like gangbusters with the holy rollers, but others may notice this comedy of faith skimps on the comedy.

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