Judge Adam Arseneau invites two of every lady into his ark.
Our review of Evan Almighty (HD DVD), published October 22nd, 2007, is also available.
A comedy of biblical proportions.
Well, it's "something" of biblical proportions, that's for certain, but I remain unconvinced of the "comedy" descriptor.
A massive financial freight train partially derailed at the box office, Evan Almighty, the sequel-esque follow-up to the hit comedy Bruce Almighty looks to recap its bulbous budgetary expenses on DVD. But does this biblical comedy sink or swim the flood waters?
Facts of the Case
Using his news anchor career in Buffalo to launch a successful political campaign, newly-elected junior Congressman Evan Baxter (Steve Carell, The 40-Year Old Virgin, The Office) and his wife Joan (Lauren Graham, Gilmore Girls) relocate to begin his new career, purchasing a beautiful home in suburban Virginia. Baxter is excited, but nervous about his campaign promise to "change the world", especially since he has no idea where to begin. His campaign has left him little time to spend with his wife and children, and he feels guilty about this.
Not an overly religious man, but certainly not one to overlook an opportunity, no matter how far-fetched, Evan goes to sleep, praying for the first time in years, for God to help him fulfill his promise. Unbeknown to Evan, God (Morgan Freeman, The Shawshank Redemption) takes him up on the offer.
Evan has a rough couple of first days in office. Congressman Long (John Goodman, Rosanne) pressures the junior member to back a lengthy bill, and Evan agrees, not fully understanding its compelxity. His alarm clock keeps going off at the same time every day, 6:14 AM, whether set this way or not. Strange shipments of wooden tools and wood arrive mysteriously at his doorstep. Worse, his facial hair seems to be growing at an inordinate rate.
God appears to the confused and disoriented Evan and gives him a task: build an ark. Animals begin showing up, in sets of twos, everywhere Evan goes, following him incessantly. His wife and children, stunned by Evan's erratic and wild behavior, write the phenomenon off to a mid-life crisis…until Evan stands up in Congress and announces September 22nd as the day of the great flood…
The story goes like this: after a seven studio bidding war in 2004, Sony Pictures, now a few million dollars lighter, ended up with a hot script entitled The Passion of the Ark. With the help of Universal Pictures, the newly purchased screenplay was entirely discarded in favor of re-conceptualizing the story into the sequel for Bruce Almighty, with Jim Carrey in the lead. Unfortunately for all studio executives involved, nobody asked Jim what he thought of the idea, and he declined to participate in the sequel. Undeterred by this minor (major) setback, they enlisted the help of the next-funniest person in Bruce Almighty to take the reigns: Steve Carell.
Puns aside, what followed next was an undertaking of biblical proportions, figuratively, literally and especially financially. The film's original budget of $140 million dollars put the project firmly on track to be the most expensive comedy ever undertaken by Hollywood…or it would have, had they actually been able to keep to it. After ricocheting wildly over budget to the tune of $175 million (advertising and promotion costs rounding the estimates nicely to an even $200 million) Sony freaked out and withdraw from the project entirely, cutting their losses and running for the hills like little girls. Universal Pictures was left holding the bag, so to speak: a very expensive comedy named Evan Almighty.
For a film with as much money thrown into it, and with as much top-grade comedic and acting talent associated with it, Evan Almighty should be so much funnier and more enjoyable than it ended up being. It is by no means an outright failure, and has some mild laughs and enjoyment running throughout, but considering all the awesome elements the film has working for it in its favor, it should have been so much more than the final result. To use a beverage-related metaphor, Evan Almighty is sweet-tasting, but watered-down, like making Kool-Aid with double the water as directed. It looks like a comedy, and acts like a comedy, and may even make you chuckle here and there, but as you drink it in, one cannot escape the sinking realization that something went direly wrong with the formula somewhere. Remember when you were a kid, and you got in trouble with your parents, and they just looked at you, as if to say, "we're not mad at you…we're just very disappointed?" That's Evan Almighty.
The film features dazzling displays of animal acting and CGI effects, seamlessly uniting dozens if not hundreds of animals on-screen with Carell and other actors, interacting with them in charming and clever fashion. Outside of the knee-jerk "awwwww" cuteness reaction, the only real comedic power mustered by animal interaction essentially boils down to birds pooping on people. Poop jokes area funny, to be sure, but…that's it? That's all hundreds of millions of dollars in CGI and animal trickery buys you? Poop jokes? As for the performances, Steve Carell is a funny guy, most of the time. I would have thought him a funny man all the time prior to seeing Evan Almighty, but here is the exception that proves the rule wrong, wrong, wrong. We don't get much out of him in this performance beyond a loose comedic caricature of himself, a weird sleepwalking that is borderline amusing, but mostly just painfully redundant. He does everything we expect Carell to do without adding anything original or worthwhile in the role, like some weird abstract episode of The Office that sucked. As for the rest of the cast; with Morgan Freeman, Steve Carell, John Goodman, Molly Shannon, Ed Helms and Wanda Sykes, a massive amount of credible talent and comedic prowess have been assembled here…and it mystifies me how few genuine laughs Evan Almighty is able to produce. The only person in the bunch consistently amusing is Wanda Sykes, doing her angry black woman routine, steady in her comedy like a metronome. She might be the funniest part of the entire film when all is said and done; a realization, to say the least,that is bittersweet in its revelation.
More egregious than the complete absence of funny material is the inherent absurdity of the storyline, which clearly put all its eggs into the conceptual basket and none into the actual script. Sure, it's a fantasy, and nothing needs to be overly realistic—I can buy a guy talking to God and being hounded by animals, but I have a hard time believing in Evan's wife's retardation. His wife, Joan (get it? ha ha) has a hard time believing her husband's spiritual transformation, despite the occurrence of all of the following in rapid-fire fashion: unexplained growth of gigantic white beard and hair, mysterious appearance of Noah-esque robes, a gigantic ark appearing in her backyard overnight and the repeated appearance of elephants, tigers, lions, bears, giraffes and all manner of creatures not native to the general District of Columbia area. The obvious conclusion that any sane person would come to, of course, was that this is nothing more than a strange mid-life crisis of Evan's, and that she should be angry towards him as a result. Of course! I mean, that makes perfect sense. Of all the malarkey handed to audiences by Evan Almighty this is the most egregious. There is no possible way to believe her reaction as anything but a badly written script, because no human being could ever be that stupid. Not even in a silly comedy can anyone expect me to swallow that malarkey.
On DVD, Evan Almighty looks sharp, presented in a smart-looking anamorphic transfer. Black levels are rich and deep, color saturation is pleasantly saturated, with especially vibrant blues and greens, and overall details is sharp. Some edge enhancement is noticeable upon close examination, but nothing detrimental or distracting. The audio treatment is a bit stronger, with a very well-defined surround presentation in 5.1 Dolby. Bass response is nicely balanced and pleasantly active, dialogue is clear and the orchestral score dances in rear channels nicely. During scenes of tumultuous on-screen activity, all five channels accurately and effectively balance. One nice feature is the DVS (Descriptive Video Service) track, with a narrator describing on-screen activity for the hard of seeing—always a thoughtful inclusion. A Spanish 5.1 and French stereo presentation are also included for good measure.
Bonus features are plentiful, considering the single-disc presentation, comprised of numerous little featurettes narrated on-set by Steve Carell. We get fourteen minutes of deleted and extended scenes, three minutes of surprisingly lame outtakes, and a plethora of behind-the-scenes making-of features. "The Ark-itects of Noah's Ark ", a seven-minute reel, details the laborious task of creating a full-sized wooden ark in Virginia, while "Becoming Noah", a six-minute feature on the makeup and costume work involved in transforming Carell into Noah. "A Flood of Visual Effects", a seven-minute exploration into the complicated CGI effects that went into animating the flood and ark tearing through the streets of Washington, and a twelve minute feature, "Animals on Set Two by Two" (probably the most interesting of the bunch) discusses the challenges of amassing such a huge amount of live animal actors, and the visual effects responsible for getting them all in the same place. Next, we get "Steve Carell Unscripted", three minutes of Steve goofing off behind set.
Two nice complements to the film's strong environmental theme come in the form of a five-minute feature "The Almighty Green Set", illustrating how cast and crew worked to make Evan Almighty extremely low-impact on the environment during filming, becoming the first Universal film to offset its carbon emissions. Second, a four-minute feature, "It's Easy Being Green" interviews cast and crew on ways the average citizen can help curb their environmental impact. Similar to this, "Acts of Random Kindness", a two minute cast and crew interview discuss nice deeds done, and "The Almighty Forest" gives name recognition to all those who planted trees during the pledge on getonboardnow.com, an environmental awareness website cross-promoting Evan Almighty. Very positive stuff.
For the young ones, an on-screen game, "Animal Roundup Game" lets kids play with the remote control, matching animals and trivia questions, while "Casting Call: Serengeti" is a short three-minute spoof on casting animals for the film, "live on location" in the Serengeti. Cute stuff. There is no "play all" feature, sadly, but splitting the content up this way gives the illusion of value.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Here's the irritating thing. Evan Almighty really is a sweet and charming family film. No, seriously. It might be fun to trash the film within an inch of its over-budgeted life, but that would be selling short positive aspects of the film worth praising. With a positive message of kindness, environmental preservation, family values and spirituality, there is genuine merit to be found in its wholesomeness and positivity, even if the film sucks in the comedy department.
Okay, so the animals are cute, but the jokes are flat and irritating, and Steve Carell should be embarrassed to stick his name on this film. Fair enough. The underlying message of family values, nauseatingly sweet and wholesome as they may be, count for something. Here is a movie that parents and kids can see together without too much seizure on the part of bored parents. Evan Almighty is way more palatable than the vast majority of children-targeted films on the market, and its values about environmentalism, family, honesty and trust are good values, regardless of your religious affiliations. Even the most jaded viewer will probably end up cracking a reluctant smile towards the end, as everything works out just perfectly the way you want it to.
It might fail outright as a comedic venture, but Evan Almighty is awfully good-natured and pleasing, enough so to save it from outright execution at the hands of the court. What few laughs the film can generate are watery, awkward things barely worth mentioning, but the overall positive attitude and feel-good charm cannot be discounted.
Here is a rare example where a film utterly fails to be the thing it sets out to be—in this case, a worthy comedic follow-up to Bruce Almighty—but rebounds and redeems itself just enough in other ways to make it almost worthwhile…or the very least, worth a rental.
Not very funny at all, but it's hard to knock acts of random kindness.
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