Sunday, 17 January 2021

'Evan Almighty' is mighty family fun

EVAN ALMIGHTY (Rated PG)


Having performed divine miracles in “Bruce Almighty,” Morgan Freeman returns as God in “Evan Almighty,” and he’s got big plans for Jim Carrey’s former colleague and TV station rival from the original film.


Maybe this isn’t the standard sequel because Carrey has moved on to other things, and Steve Carell has moved up in the world with his burgeoning TV and film career as a comedic character.


You may recall that Carell, the smug, preening broadcaster targeted by Carrey’s pranks, could only speak in a torrent of babble while he was on the air. Thus, it should come as no surprise that in “Evan Almighty” Carell’s Evan Baxter is elected to Congress, where his affliction of incoherent prattle would prove fittingly convenient to his duties.


Right from the start, “Evan Almighty” flunks basic civics lessons. This may not matter to most, but the film opens with Evan Baxter campaigning for and winning election to Congress from Buffalo on a simple platform of “Change the World.” Putting aside this obviously frivolous electoral bromide, there’s the unlikely scenario of Evan being elected while apparently still serving as a newscaster.


He makes a farewell TV broadcast after his victory, before packing up his wife Joan (Lauren Graham) and three sons into an oversized Hummer that even Arnold Schwarzenegger wouldn’t be seen driving anymore. Then he arrives at the Capitol and scores a huge office that certainly would never go to a rookie. There’s more, and we’ll get into it later.


When Evan and Joan arrive in the suburban town of Huntsville, Va., they start a new life in an expansive home nestled in the pristine hills of a new subdivision. Making promises to his sons about a hiking trip that he will surely fail to keep, Evan the freshman Congressman is quickly engulfed by the political world once he arrives on the Hill.


His anxiety-ridden chief of staff Marty (John Michael Higgins) is officious as well as efficient. The wisecracking assistant Rita (Wanda Sykes) probably has the best lines, mostly when observing the peculiar behavior of her new boss. Meanwhile, the energetic intern Eugene (Jonah Hill) is hopelessly obsequious, dutifully taking every opportunity to become indispensable.


Meanwhile, Evan seems too naïve and oblivious to the congressional sharks circling around him in his first days in office. One of the House’s most powerful members, Congressman Long (John Goodman) is anxious to get Evan signed on as a junior co-sponsor of a bill that even the most casual observer will detect as failing to pass the simple “smell test.”


Later on, Congressman Long is seen threatening to suspend members of Congress, even though he and even the Speaker of the House have no such unilateral power. Particularly egregious is his ability to direct members of the local police force to confiscate private property. But hey, this is a movie, so why let a few troubling legal questions and constitutional limitations interfere with a good story?


To get back to the essential story, Morgan Freeman’s God appears to Evan and issues one simple, albeit ludicrous, command, namely to build an ark to prepare his family and friends for a mighty flood. As much as Evan would like to dismiss this request, he can’t to do much about all the animals of various shapes and sizes showing up on his wooded land and the birds who take over his Capitol office.


Being transformed into a modern day Noah, Evan’s appearance changes so that he’s longhaired and bearded, looking like the Unabomber and causing a stir at the Capitol with his increasingly odd behavior.


Whether he’s trying to be helpful or comical, God provides Evan with a copy of “Ark Building for Dummies” and trades in the business clothes for a flowing robe.


The comedy revolves around slapstick efforts by Evan not to lose his sanity while performing his dual job as congressman and the emissary of the Almighty. As his appearance changes radically, he baffles his staff desperately trying to cover up his idiosyncrasies. Meanwhile, he has plenty of difficulty convincing his wife and kids that his ark building is not a frantic midlife crisis.


Of course, another part of the comedy is the endless parade of TV news crews parked on his front lawn, scoffing at Evan’s apocalyptic claims of the oncoming flood.


No matter its flaws, “Evan Almighty” has a family friendly vibe that makes it appealing for a summer entertainment. Granted, surprises are few, but there are enough laughs to amuse even the more cynical audience members.


Steve Carell continues to burnish his image as a comedic force, and his Capitol Hill assistants, played by Wanda Sykes, Jonah Hill and John Michael Higgins, pull their weight for wonderful comic relief.


Tim Riley writes film reviews for Lake County News.


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