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Published: Friday, 6/22/2007

Movie review: Evan Almighty***

BY BARBARA VANCHERI
BLOCK NEWS ALLIANCE
Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) takes a break from building his ark, as a group of potential passengers watches his every move in the Universal Studios film Evan Almighty. Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) takes a break from building his ark, as a group of potential passengers watches his every move in the Universal Studios film Evan Almighty.
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Less Evan, more Almighty. Or, better yet, more Evan and the Almighty.

That might have nudged Evan Almighty closer to Bruce Almighty, the fourth highest-grossing movie of 2003.

Instead, it s a divine Dr. Dolittle, with Steve Carell as a first-time congressman from Buffalo who is dubbed New York Noah due to his long white hair, flowing beard, ancient robes, and, oh yes, the ark he is building outside his suburban Virginia home for creatures great and small.

Before he struck gold with The Office, Carell appeared in Bruce Almighty as the smarmy colleague who got the anchor gig Jim Carrey wanted. That prompted Carrey s on-air meltdown and challenge to God, who temporarily handed over his powers to Bruce.

This time, God (Morgan Freeman) appears to Carell s Evan Baxter, TV anchor turned congressman, but doesn t grant him omnipotence.

Instead, the Almighty tries to help him make good on his campaign promise to change the world.

As the movie opens, Evan and his wife (Lauren Graham) and their three boys are moving into an upscale house in a new Virginia development. They re barely unpacked when Evan starts seeing the symbolic number 614 at every turn and God instructs him to build an ark.

Evan tries to ignore this but, like Tim Allen in The Santa Clause, has some grooming glitches a beard that sprouts overnight and hair that grows inches at a time which cannot be denied. Soon, his own staff barely recognizes him and a powerful politician (John Goodman) is questioning his fitness for support or office.

What might have seemed like a lark soon turns Evan into a laughingstock, although he could be a prophet, too, as the animals are ready to march two by two onto the ark.

Evan Almighty, directed by Tom Shadyac and written by Steve Oedekirk,kerk, is that rare movie dealing with God, the Bible, and prayer, although more time is spent watching Carell trim his nose hairs than discussing the family s religious background, if any.

Interest spikes any time Freeman is on screen but then he disappears and we get more bird poop, mallets mashing fingers, and animals roaming the landscape as if Washington, D.C., and Virginia were a drive-through safari.

It is intriguing to watch the ark being built with ancient tools and techniques, and the baboons emerge as the kings of this crowded jungle as they pass lemonade and roll logs. Although this is one movie that doesn t seem to include penguins, many members of the wild kingdom are present and accounted for.

Evan Almighty ends with a rather unconvincing special-effects sequence that looks like a model for a theme-park ride. Its central message is watered down by reminders about the environment (good) and abuse of political clout (bad). Even the one-liners by Wanda Sykes, who plays Evan s assistant, don t work their usual magic, but Jonah Hill provides a spark as a smart but worshipful staff member.

Bruce Almighty wasn t terribly deep or thought-provoking, either, but it was a lot more fun, particularly as Bruce proved only human when it came to his abilities. It was PG-13, however, with some scenes not appropriate for younger audiences.

With its PG rating, Evan Almighty is Sunday school lite and clean family entertainment, with the best saved for last, literally, as the cast and crew exit singing and dancing. If only everything else were as lively and laugh-filled.

The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Barbara Vancheri is the movie editor for the Post-Gazette.



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