Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
July 2007

What hath God wrought?

And on the eighth day, God decided to just mail it in, and created 'Evan Almighty'

Evan Almighty
Universal Pictures
Director: Tom Shadyac
Screenplay: Steve Oedekerk, based on characters created by Steve Koren and Mark O'Keefe
Starring:Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman, Lauren Graham, John Goodman, Wanda Sykes, John Michael Higgins and Jonah Hill
Rated PG / 1 hour, 30 minutes
Opened June 22, 2007
(ZERO STARS)

It's sad, really, that in order to make a wholesome family blockbuster about faith and God, Steve Carell had to sell his soul. And just when things were going so well for him.

Here we have the most expensive comedy in history, and yet it appears not a dime was spent on character, story, depth, intelligence, common sense, humor, plot, creativity or jokes. But $230 million had to have gone somewhere. I'm sure the cast was well-fed.

The audience, meanwhile, even one craving a little food for the soul, bears the brunt of the suffering. Because for all the money being spent on Evan Almighty, it's painfully clear that no one's even trying. No one cares. No one wants to be there, no one is even trying to make a good movie. They know it's crap, and they know we know it's crap. And eventually they will look back on this the same way Jason Bateman recalls Teen Wolf Too.

It's hard to understand how the film went so wrong. On paper, it's clear that the film is going for something much bigger and more ambitious than the harmless simplicity of its predecessor, Bruce Almighty (by no means a great movie, but funny and entertaining enough). Instead of one guy being given God's powers, we get a full-fledged modern-day Noah's Ark. Everything is on a larger scale. No effort has been wasted on bankrolling the movie . . . but actually making something of it? That's a different story.

The "Noah" in this case is newly elected Congressman Evan Baxter (Carell), who has just uprooted his family from Buffalo to the Virginia countryside and - such bad timing! - his first week on the job gets recruited by God (Morgan Freeman) to build an ark for a pending flood. This, of course, complicates matters with his family (adorable wife played by Lauren Graham, three adorable sons) and the corrupt veteran Congressman (played by John Goodman) who has taken a liking to Evan.

It's not just that he's building an ark in his backyard. It's that God has played a few little tricks on him, too . . . making animals follow him two-by-two to his office, making his beard grow in immediately after being shaved off, making his real clothes disappear in exchange for an Old Testament-chic shepherd's robe. Stuff like that - the beard, the robe - is harmless enough, but it's nothing more than easy sight gags that require absolutely no thought on the part of the writer.

(And do you think that when God talked to the real Noah, he made him dress up in a silly costume, too? Is God really that petty? I think not . . . then again, I'm nitpicking. Let's move on.)

But with all the lame jokes, flat special effects and unfunny comedians named Wanda Sykes already on display, the worst thing of all is the cheap, cringe-worthy ways the film outlines the plot. Consider the early scenes when Evan - just about ready to start his first day in Washington - promises the kids he'll take them on a family hike.

After getting overloaded at the office - looking absolutely shellshocked that he actually has to, you know, work - what happens? Aaaaaaawwwh, they can't go on the hike! (But you promised! Sad face. Pout. Stern look from wife. Surprise from audience, which didn't see that coming at all.) Evan has to learn his priorities.

(Does he make it up to them? Do they eventually go on that gosh-darn hike? You'll just have to wait and see!)

Oh, it's so nice to see a film that understands the complexities of balancing work and family so deeply. Really, that's exactly what life is like. Steve Oedekerk really has his hand on the pulse of middle-class America.

There is a difference between reaching an audience, and patronizing it. This movie falls firmly in the latter category. Some, through no fault of their own, won't know the difference. Evan Almighty is a movie that, perhaps even unwittingly, has contempt for its audience; it can't give us anything more than a series of horrendous cliches and plot gimmicks that insult our intelligence. And a story in which every character - yes, even God - is a complete idiot. I don't think there is a single non-stupid character in the entire movie . . . with the possible exception of Eugene (Jonah Hill), who coincidentally delivers the only three or four good lines in the entire script.

As for Carell, Freeman, Goodman and Co., we'll give them a collective mulligan. We know they can do better. Carell actually has a brief cameo in another summer hit, the raunchy comedy Knocked Up; that film is not only brilliant and touching, but, oddly enough, also has a stronger family message than does the family-oriented Evan Almighty. Go figure.

Evan Almighty is a bad mixture of The Santa Clause, Ace Ventura and every saccharine, condescending one-hour family special you've ever seen. See it at your own risk - but you'll have hell to pay.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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