Review: Evan Almighty

So, yeah, "Evan Almighty" (IMDb listing) is a big, bloated, crotch-walloping, slapsticked-into-a-coma, yelly, juvenile piece of family entertainment. But at least it's better than "Bruce Almighty."

Now a congressman, Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) has moved his family (including Lauren Graham) to suburban Virginia to start a new life. Ready to take on the world of politics, Evan is visited by God (Morgan Freeman, having a ball), who informs the phobic congressman that's he should build an ark instead. At first, Evan resists. Yet, when the animals start showing up at his door, the lumber dropped off on his lawn, and cursed with a beard and hair that won't stop growing, Evan realizes he must take the role of Noah and build his mighty boat before a promised flood arrives.

"Bruce Almighty" was one of those unexpected disappointments that makes your stomach hurt. It was Jim Carrey playing God, and the film could only eek out 50 percent blissfully goofy material. The rest was lost to the winds of shoehorned decency; the film growing a needless heart when it needed to flex its funny bone just a little bit longer.

Yet, it made money. Loads of it. But not enough to entice Carrey to come back. Producers being producers, they inched the franchise over a few feet, and here we have Steve Carell in the biggest role of his rather short-lived screen career. Fortunately, Carell is a natural, lending "Evan" the perfect blast of comedic fury to get the job done.

The gift of Carell's performance is that you believe he believes; even surrounded by a plethora of trained animals and subjected to a torrent of Evan-go-boom physical gags, Carell stays crisply focused and determined. He sells the idea that his character is capable of limitless building capability and is genuinely fearful of God's wrath. He's terrific here. I shudder at the thought of the film without his horn-blare touch.

Returning director Tom Shadyac has improved his serve for this sequel, evening out the balance between slapstick and social conscience for "Evan." The film still features plenty of strained obviousness and poorly implemented morals (perhaps fearing the messages of the movie would be lost in the massive scope), yet "Evan" is a slicker piece of direction, with refreshing concern for pace and timing. It's not crafty, pioneering cinema, but compared to "Bruce," "Evan" is a faster, more confident picture. It knows what pleases the crowds and steamrolls through the fluff briskly.

Now I could've done without the countless animal feces gags, the genital-assault humor, and Shadyac's atrocious ear for "inspirational" music (does the world really need a country cover of "Revolution?"), but I did enjoy this big, dumb family film in a big, dumb way. I was even more impressed how "Evan" turns temporarily into an Irwin Allen disaster film in the final act, using impressive special effects and good old fashioned actorly panic to get some use out of that pesky ark.

As a crowd-pleasing, undemanding matinee diversion, "Evan Almighty" is a far more satisfying production than "Bruce," and that, to me, is a great thing. Even if the nonsense gets under your skin from the first frame, it's hard to ignore that Carell is a natural at this leading man business.

Filmfodder Grade: B