Evan Can Wait

Why in God's name did Steve Carell take the paycheck?

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Evan Almighty Steve Carell Bible-based movies apocalyptic events Directed by Tom Shadyac. Written by Steve Oedekerk. Starring Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Lauren Graham, and John Goodman.

Rated PG. Opens Friday.

Steve Carell reads Lauren Graham a hot-off-the-press sacred text.
Steve Carell reads Lauren Graham a hot-off-the-press sacred text.
Evan Almighty, the follow-up to Bruce Almighty, is the work of an angry God. At 89 minutes that last a lifetime, it's a sanctimonious sitcom dolled up as the most expensive comedy ever made -- $175 mil, so they say, no doubt choking -- and marks an unfortunate low point in the history of recent American comedy, as it proves that Steve Carell can't make a Bible-school lesson funny. There goes his perfect game.

In short, God (Morgan Freeman, who you know is God because his white linen shirts never wrinkle) tells anchor-turned-politician Evan Baxter (Carell) that if he builds it, they will come -- "it" being an ark, "they" being animals lined up two by two. And Evan's wife, Joan (Lauren Graham, once more wasted in the movies after years of terrific TV), signs on for it, more or less, without asking why or what for. Joan Baxter is what one critic writing about Field of Dreams called "the Penthouse wife" -- the gorgeous, glassy-eyed yes-woman who'll go along with any of hubby's half-baked ideas.

And that's all Evan Almighty is: a half-baked idea, from whimpering start to colossally insufferable finish (which doesn't even include the end-credit dance sequence, featuring the cast rubbing all over director Tom Shadyac, as if to prove its undying love). The movie suggests, quite frankly, that God's nothing more than a son of a bitch who's willing to drown thousands of people, just to prove that one character -- and you'll know who, like, 12 minutes in -- is up to no good, man. (Did I just give something away? My bad.) Rather than use Evan as a vessel to warn innocent people about impending disaster, God turns the poor guy into a Rogaine freak show with a messianic complex, to whom geese and pigeons flock, and elephants and monkeys migrate.

And why does God choose Evan? Because in Bruce Almighty, his character was played by Steve Carell -- on a roll till now with The Office and The 40-Year-Old Virgin, in which the former Daily Show correspondent proved he was willing to debase himself for a well-deserved laugh. Who better to build a sequel around than an actor for whom self-humiliation is considered an act of heroism? In the movie, however, God chooses Evan because, as a candidate, he pledged to "change the world," and the Almighty feels it's time to take him up on his promise. But why a former TV anchor from Buffalo above any number of do-gooder celebrities -- Angelina Jolie, say, or Bono? Perhaps God only watches the one newscast.

But who cares about movie logic, when Evan Almighty isn't really a movie -- just a sequel about being a sequel, like most every other sequel. It stoops repeatedly to remind you how much you like Carell, as though the producers are trying to validate your ticket purchase. There's a movie marquee advertising The 40-Year-Old Virgin Mary. The camera actually lingers on it for several seconds; you expect Carell himself to point to the title, in case you missed the joke. Jon Stewart appears twice from the Daily Show set, poking fun at Evan's transformation from suit-and-tie politician to robed messiah -- though in the film's holier-than-thou context, Stewart comes off a godless heathen, which, blessedly, he is. And several of Carell's Office and Virgin castmates make small cameos, among them Ed Helms and Jonah Hill. Sweet Lord, how they all try.

Shadyac, who early on made Ace Ventura, now fancies himself some kind of big-screen preacher -- a maker of do-good, be-good, feel-good films, chief among them the sickly sweet Patch Adams -- and now this. Bruce Almighty wasn't much fun either, but at least it felt a little more honest and found room between the sermons for some naughty-boy ogling and potty-mouth humor. This is PG-rated proselytizing tinged with Al Gore self-righteousness (the bad guy in the movie, John Goodman's corrupt congressman, is out to rape and pillage a wildlife preserve), all with the narrative thrust of a film about the apocalypse starring Kirk Cameron.

Turns out the best way to get a busy daddy to stay at home with the kids is to turn him into Noah. Or Jesus. Or Moses. They all look the same to the heathens. And Carell? After he sprouts the white beard and dons the tattered tunic of a Biblical hero, he's nothing more than a saint. And that's just a sin.

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