Evan Almighty (review)

Disaster of Biblical Proportions

Well, we can now put aside those vicious rumors about Evan Almighty being, infamously, the most expensive comedy ever made. Because whether it cost $130 million, $160 million, $175 million, or more — reports vary but range into the Biblical — the label is simply unfair. This isn’t a comedy. There is not one single laugh to be found within its meager and — depressingly, for a movie about the Big Guy Upstairs, the Master of the Universe and All Eternity, and all His wrath, and so on — inconsequential bounds.
What it is, instead, is an enormously expensive advertisement for the Noah’s Ark Whitewater Raft Ride, coming to Universal Studios Theme Park for Summer 2008! Yea! Plan now to bring the whole family to Orlando!

I wish I could laugh at that, but it’s not really funny, either. I wasn’t just bored by Evan Almighty, I was actively disgusted that so much money was spent on a film that is so poorly written, and so inconsistent and incoherent that it makes about as much sense as the six-thousand-year-old book written by ignorant goat herders that inspired it. It is — if I, a quite literally (if some people are to be believed) God-damned atheist may use a somewhat faith-tinged word — disgraceful.

No, wait: there is something funny about Evan: it looks laughably, cartoonishly cheap. All those budget overages that supposedly went to working with all those two-by-two animals? If hacktacular fauxteur director Tom Shadyac (Dragonfly, Patch Adams) was going to just plop all those critters — some CGI, some real — in front of a green screen anyway, and seemingly wanted us to actually be aware of the fact that we were looking at cheesy green-screen crap, he could have done that for much less of the other green stuff than he did.

Oh my God — can I say that? — but this is a terrible, terrible movie. Evan, the Steve Carell (Little Miss Sunshine, Over the Hedge) newsanchor from Bruce Almighty, is now a congressman — ain’t America grand? — and he is on a mission to Washington to “change the world.” This is his campaign motto, and it is as hollow as any, though of course the movie does not realize this. Evan clearly does not know what he means when he says the world needs changing and he’s the one to do it, because he requires God (Morgan Freeman [An Unfinished Life, Batman Begins]; oh, Morgan…) to smack him upside the head with the clue lightning bolt to let him know that clear-cutting Virginia valleys to build monstrous Toll Brothers housing developments of absurd 20,000-square-feet homes — like the one Evan and his family move in to — and driving obscene gas-guzzling Hummers are probably not the best thing for the planet. (One wonders how amazingly stupid Evan’s new constituents must be.)

Anyway, God wants Evan to build an ark, because a flood is coming, and I’m starting to think that perhaps a smoting from the Man Himself is exactly what we need, if Evan Almighty is what passes for “inspirational” these days. It’s an arbitrary stew of mindless, knee-jerk pap about being nice to people and kind to animals and stuff — does anyone really need to be told this? No, scratch that: Is there anyone alive and even half breathing who would benefit from such a “message” when it’s tacked onto a $175 million Three Stooges movie about a modern Noah hammering his thumbs and dropping logs on his feet while he builds his ark in the yard? This is the “height” of the movie’s “humor,” and if “writers” Steve Oedekerk (Barnyard), Joel Cohen (not, alas, Joel Coen), and Alec Sokolow (Cheaper by the Dozen, with Cohen) earned more than three bucks apiece for this script, divine retribution is indeed called for.

I have to admit, though, that the heathen in me loves the undercutting of faith the film dishes out, even if it does so accidentally: We’re supposed to pray, thank God for our blessings (as Evan thanks God for his mansion and his Hummer), but if getting a return call from the Head Honcho is a sign of insanity — much of the movie’s attempts at “humor” result from the disbelief Evan faces when he starts telling folk God is telling him to build an ark — what does that really say about what so many people really believe about the existence of a personal deity? What does it say when the film puts this modern Noah on a par with Tim Allen’s Santa Claus: a mythical figure many of us pretend to believe in for the sake of others, but don’t actually accept as real?

But the most damning — goddamning? — thing about Evan Almighty is that it doesn’t even work on its own terms. All the budget-blowing animal stuff, all the pretty creatures descending out of nowhere to help Evan build his ark — yes, seriously — turn out to be entirely redundant. (And I won’t even get into how only the animals with screen presence get invited, lions and polar bears and monkeys and such; there’s no sign of any of the 350,000 species of beetles that would presumably need to be saved, unless God really hates the creatures He created in such abundance.) You might think that polar bears and thousands of other nonnative animals appearing in a Virginia suburb might just convince the scoffing public that maybe there really is something supernatural going on here. But no: the public still thinks Evan is a joke. And then it transpires — in a finale that is one of the biggest, most aggressive cheats I think I’ve ever seen on film — that the animals weren’t going to need saving anyway.

I hope God is getting His agent on the phone. Cuz He’s gonna want His name pulled off this mess.

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