Remember Evan Baxter, a backstabbing Buffalo, N.Y. newsman forced to spout gibberish on the air (“I like to do the cha-cha”) by a vengeful reporter with God powers in Bruce Almighty?
Steve Carell ripped roars of laughter from just one scene of Jim Carrey’s dimwitted 2003 hit. Those were his days as a bit-part scene-stealer, before The 40-Year-Old Virgin made him a star.
Carell gets the lead, and a biblical mandate inspired by Noah, in Evan Almighty, a shoddy-looking $175-million spin-off that leaves Carell in the lurch for an uninspired, occasionally insulting blend of poop and pap. Courting families, Evan is severely tame by comparison with Bruce. Anecdotes about an Argentine lake duck’s endowment are as blue as it gets, but screenwriter Steve Oedekerk and director Tom Shadyac make the movie so safe and sterile it forgets to be funny.
Oedekerk is too tepid to tap into even an obvious Spider-Man punchline, and Shadyac seems too busy handing out hugs, seen in an end-credits dance sequence, to offer any credible comedy.
In Carell’s defense, he remains fiercely committed, drawing chuckles in explaining away clean-cut Evan’s sudden scraggly appearance. (Ark builders must look the part.) Otherwise, when not scrapping pigeon droppings off his suits or tumbling off the ark, Carell is reduced to stone-faced stares and spiritual pontifications. Evan even asks someone to repent. You might ask for a refund.
Howard Dean lost a presidential bid after a milder meltdown, but Evan somehow makes it to Congress on a platform promise to “change the world.” The movie offers a campaign flashback, but wastes an opportunity to show how Evan might have overcome his on-camera embarrassment.
With his wife Joan (Lauren Graham) and three sons, Evan arrives in D.C. driving a Hummer, moving into a garish McMansion and picking 300-year-old Brazilian cherry wood for his cabinets. Cue mild chastising of subdivision life from a film banking on affluent families to put it in the black.
Spurred by Joan, Evan sheepishly asks for God’s help. He doesn’t expect forced service as a modern-day Noah to build an ark for a coming flood. Morgan Freeman returns as God, apparently a fan of V-necks and stale spiritual spins on pop-culture gags, like a book entitled Ark Building for Dummies or a movie marquee that reads The 40-Year-Old Virgin Mary.
A YouTube short with that premise might be funnier than Evan beset by beasts that stroll in two at a time. They provide double the defecation jokes (John Goodman’s villainous Congressman Long is literally dive-bombed) and double the fuzzy roaming-animal effects. There might not be an uglier film this decade with a nine-figure budget, and the flood climax is a digital melee devoid of tension.
Though God always forces Evan to complete his task — making him naked when he tries to wear anything other than the robe, for example — he’s constantly stressing the importance acts of random kindness. (Remove the preposition from that phrase and groan at the acronym.)
There’s nothing left to chance or comedic impact in this film, but it achieves one unintentional good deed. The cast and crew of Speed 2: Cruise Control can rejoice, as they’re no longer associated with the worst over-budgeted summer sequel to show a big boat crashing on to land.