There are books to be written about the wrongness of “Evan Almighty“, which was clearly conceived as another Jim Carrey vehicle and sloppily reconfigured to star Steve Carell’s secondary character when Carrey (rightly) passed.
I’ve been kicking this around for about a week now — longer, surely, than Tom Shadyac and Steve Odekerk did — and the evidence is all there.
First of all, there’s the way the sequel tries to overlook the fact that Carell’s character, Evan Baxter, was kind of a dick in “Bruce Almighty”. His rival reporter was the closest thing the first film had to a villain, and his spastic comeuppance at Carrey’s mystical hands was its comedic highlight.
Well, guess what? The asshole thing turns out to have been nothing more than Evan’s professional face. The guy turns out to be a fine, upstanding Christian, married to the lovely and supportive Lauren Graham, with three cookie-cutter boys at home. And when Evan starts his new job as a United States Congressman, he’s almost boyishly excited … more like Carrey’s Bruce Nolan, really, than the back-stabbing, supercilious Evan Baxter we remember.
Come to think of it, this Evan seems an awful lot like Michael Scott, the character Carell plays on “The Office”; Carell even falls back on a specific Michael tic early in the picture, throwing out an inappropriate pop-culture reference and then shyly explaining it away under his breath. This one involves Gomer Pyle; who in the target demographic is going to get that?
And here’s something else: The whole gag of the movie only really works if it’s Bruce who’s tasked with building the ark, rather than Evan. Bruce knows God; they hung out back in the first movie, remember? God doesn’t know Evan from Adam. (Well, obviously there’s that whole omniscience thing, which is how the filmmakers managed to talk themselves into this in the first place, but you see where I’m going with this.)
If God tells Bruce to build the ark, it’s payback on the favor from the last film; also, Bruce will know that God has a good reason for it, and his blissful conviction that he’s doing the right thing — as well as the enhanced beard growth and the robes and the animal mastery — would be read by his family and outsiders as religious mania. Carrey could play that, and it’d be funny, as opposed to the endless gymnastics Evan has to go through in the first two-thirds of “Evan Almighty” to explain away his wacky circumstances.
Oh, and God choosing Evan for this task, and more or less bullying him into it when he balks, kinda undermines that whole free-will issue that was essential to the theological underpinnings of “Bruce Almighty”. Bruce would have a choice, and — given his previous personal experience — he’d embrace it; Evan doesn’t even get to question his assignment. He’s just slammed with the consequences of avoiding it (cue the poop jokes) until he submits, at which point he experiences absolutely no negative effects in his role as a Congressman, because the filmmakers don’t really give a crap about that.
Now, here’s something else that is deeply wrong about “Evan Almighty”. The film’s avoidance of the real-world implications of an American politician suddenly proclaiming that God has commanded him to build an ark because a flood is coming is nothing short of moronic. There’s comedy aplenty to be mined in the current state of US politics; if Ted Stevens was to declare the apocalypse was nigh next week on the Senate floor, surely Bush and half of his administration would be milking every last drop of political juice out of the poor old man, just to score a few cynical points with the religious maniacs who form the Republican party’s remaining base support. Hell, Bush himself would show up at the construction site for a photo-op, though he’d probably wiggle out of doing any actual work.
“Evan Almighty” doesn’t even go near that line of thought. He may be a terrible filmmaker, but Tom Shadyac is not an idiot, and he knows the only way this turkey is going to make “Bruce Almighty” money is if he courts the church leaders who bought tickets for “The Passion of the Christ” in bulk, and that means treating Christianity with the utmost respect. Where “Bruce Almighty” had a fairly fuzzy vision of theology, with God being nothing more specific than a warm, paternal presence, “Evan Almighty” roots him in the Old Testament, despite the characters being uniformly Christian. (Even the grown-ups say their prayers before bed.)
Oddly, none of those Christians ever brings up the whole rainbow thing — the bit a little further along in Genesis where God makes a covenant with Man never to flood the earth again. Surely the big guy’s announcement to Evan would inspire someone to pick up the book; you could even get around the whole “questioning the Lord” problem by having one of the picture’s cardboard villains bring it up. It could even play as comedy, with John Goodman’s blustering senator demonstrating further hubris by claiming he knows the Bible better than the guy who wrote it.
Nope. No point in that, when you can have a shot of a baboon drinking lemonade, or another extended beat where Jonah Hill — brought over to the production because he’s associated with other, funnier Carell projects — riffs on something to fill time while a bunch of other actors stand around stiffly, waiting for the director to call “cut” so they can get the hell out of there and go home. No one cares. No one is trying.
I don’t blame Carell for taking the gig; he needs to keep building his audience beyond “Office” and “Daily Show” fans, and this particular mainstream project must have seemed like the obvious choice — a high-profile sequel to a high-profile hit. But “Evan Almighty” seems to prove he works best when he’s part of an ensemble, as in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin” … or perhaps it just proves he works best when he’s got a director who’s paid attention to those annoying little trifles of filmmaking, like script and character, that must be addressed before the money comes rolling in.
No attention of any kind has been paid to the creation of “Evan Almighty”; it’s a profit machine designed to swindle the rubes into coughing up their hard-earned cash for an empty light show.