Some forty years ago comedian Bill Cosby had an album that featured a skit of his about Noah. The humor revolved around the relationship between Noah and God. There were differences over the building of the ark, the care of the animals and even how the neighbors reacted to the construction of a huge wooden ship blocking their driveways. This basic premise is what is behind the film ‘Evan Almighty’. While it was marketed as a sequel to the hit ‘Bruce Almighty’ it is not so much a continuation of the first film; it is more like another story set in the same fictional universe. The two leads of the previous film decline reprising their characters but ‘Bruce’s’ breakout star, Steve Carell’ once again gets to show his form of dry humor. The film does have its funny moments but it suffers from the usual problems for a sequel. It has big shoes to fill without Jim Carey to help shoulder the comedy load. This film has the largest budget for a comedy to date (estimated at about $200 million) but occasionally lacks focus and direction. The cast is expert and talented enough to carry this as a reasonable popcorn flick and fun for the whole family. Now this is a major plus that covers a multitude of sins.
As the film starts we find news anchor woman Susan Ortega (Catherine Bell) bidding her on screen partner Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) farewell. He is leaving television news having just been elected the U.S. Congressman for Buffalo, New York. The main plank of his campaign was ‘Change the World’, highly ambitious for a freshman congressman from a small district. Evan moves his family to a suburban neighborhood in Virginia, just over the river from Washington DC. From the camera’s vantage point we see a white dove with a branch in its mouth following the Baxter’s car from above. Evan has a nice, typical family. His wife Joan (Lauren Graham) cares for their three sons; Ryan (Jimmy Bennett), middle child Jordan (Graham Phillips) and eldest Dylan (Graham Phillips). The car they drive is somewhat anachronistic of a politician out to change the world, a gas guzzling Hummer. Ironically the rear seat televisions are playing ‘Animal Planet’ as they enter the gated community that will become their new home. The new Baxter house is one of the first in a new part of the development surrounded mostly by empty lots. Evan is not exactly environmentally conscious. He is gleeful when he finds out that the wood that will be used to make his kitchen cabinets is over 300 years old. When a stray dog wonders over to his youngest son Evan shows that he is also not an animal friendly person. On his first night in the new home Evan feels overwhelmed, kneels beside his bed and prays to God for help after thanking him for all his new material possessions. When he wakes up he looks over at the alarm clock and sees that it displays Gen: 6:14. That number seems to pop up all over as Evan continues his day. A strange box is delivered containing primitive tools. Evan is normally meticulous about his appearance but he seems to be growing his hair and beard at an alarming rate. Adding to the mystery is eight adjacent plots in the neighborhood have been purchased in his name. He goes off to work at his new office in the Capital and meets his quirky assistant Rita Daniels (Wanda Sykes) and the influential senior congressman Chuck Long (John Goodman). Back at home huge quantities of lumber are delivered to Evan’s home. After seeing Gen. 6:14 one too many times he looks it up in the Bible, it is the account of Noah being told by God to build the ark. He runs outside and finds God (Morgan Freeman) dressed all in white sitting atop the pile of wood. God tells Evan that he is to build an ark. While doubtful at first Evan begins to notice that animals appear to be all around him. When the animals start to follow Evan to work he finally announces his mission from God and Congressman Long calls for his removal from office. His wife leaves him taking the children to her family. God intervenes with her and she returns to stand by her man and help him finish the ark.
One of the most difficult sub genres to master is the message comedy. You have to balance getting the message across without becoming overly preachy and obscuring the humor. Here the writers just missed this objective. The message of helping others, that humans are the caretakers for the planet hits you over the head while the humor is based more on the talent of the cast than witty writing. The comedy is softer than need be even for a family film. They tried so hard to make a gentle movie that the producers forgot to make sure people would laugh at loud at it. The ending is a bit too pat and an almost textbook case of Deus ex machine. On the plus side this film has great production values; that is the attention to the details of the filming. A life size ark measuring 450 in length, 80 feet wide and 51 feet high was actually constructed. There was over a hundred species of animals appearing in the flick, the delight of every animal wrangler in Hollywood. The physical humor plays better for the younger set but will get a chuckle from the parents watching along. The film moves at fast pace getting right into things without much in the way of exposition.
The salvation of the film is without any doubt Steve Carell. His dry delivery carries the day here. He is well placed here as a man who is asked directly by God to do something that not only seems impossible but also makes him a social pariah. He has the knack for slapstick humor and shows it off here with flair. Carell is the everyman that pulls the audience in with his ability to let us identify with him. Lauren Graham is trying to pull away from her years playing a Gilmore Girl. She does well here has the beset upon wife and mother worried about the mental health of her hirsute hubby and a few hundred animals roaming around her backyard. Her performance is particularly touching in the restaurant scene where God is her waiter and explains to her that God gives people the opportunity to do what they need to do. As always Wanda Sykes masters her role. She is the skeptic who sees her new boss as a nut case but has to come around at the end. She is one of the best at reaction shots, just look at her face to see a true comedian.
This DVD release does work as a very well; as expected for something from Universal Studios. The video is presented in anamorphic 2.35:1 with an excellent color palette and contrast. The transfer is near perfect. The Dolby 5.1 audio has a distinct channel separation and provides a full, rich sound stage. There are also a nice set of extras to keep the family entertain after the film is over. In ‘The Ark-itects of Noah's Ark’ the difficulties of constructing a full size ark are considered. Fortunately the workmen were able to use modern tools and techniques. Applying the considerable amount of hair to Mr. Carell is the topic of ‘Becoming Noah’. In a nice nod to the actor a zipper was installed in the front of his robes. The hair took about three hours a day to apply, often one strand of hair at a time. Another featurette focuses on the problems inherent in having hundreds of animals on set. ‘Animals on Set Two by Two’ has some of the antics the animals were up to while on set. The climactic flood is featured in ‘A Flood of Visual Effects’ where tons of water had to be directed just right. All the special effects are covered in ‘The Almight Green Set’ including how the animals were increased in numbers thanks to computer graphics. There is also a look at Steve Carell, some outtakes and a little game for the kids. This works as a family film so make some popcorn, gather the kids and enjoy.
If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?