And it came to pass that a Voice with the celestial intonation of Morgan Freeman came to Steve Carell and said, ”Comedy superstar!” And Carell said, ”Who, me?” And the Voice said, ”I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, of Bruce, and of sequels!” And Carell said, ”I gave at The Office.”
But the Voice continued: ”It is time! I want you to star in Evan Almighty, where you will play Evan Baxter, the character you were back in 2003 when you took a small role in Bruce Almighty as a babbling newscaster and stole the show from Jim Carrey. I want you to play the same Evan, only this time you’ve been elected to Congress, and you’ve moved into a fancy, wasteful house where you don’t pay enough attention to your wife and three sons, and so God — played by Morgan Freeman, of course — comes to you and says he wants you to build an Ark! And thus will you learn about humility, family togetherness, prayer, acts of random kindness, and ecological integrity. And lo, you will please the faith-based community and attract your own comedy congregants, too, and it will be good! Or at least profitable.”
And Carell said, ”Riiight,” although not quite like Bill Cosby said it four decades earlier in his own famous comedy skit about Noah and the Ark, the one where God went on about cubits and stuff. But because he is a decent fellow, and a smart man, Carell made good on the prophecy, starring in a movie not so much divinely inspired as nailed together by blunt force using splintered two-by-fours. When the star gets the chance to be the Evan Baxter beloved in the first Almighty production — a shallow, self-involved media twit, a blow-dried blowhard — Carell is, well, a god. Nobody tackles a scene in which a vain man attends to his own nose hairs with more gusto.
When he goes all biblical, though, the tide goes against him, and against any chances of honest comedy charm. (Tom Shadyac directs and Steve Oedekerk writes, as they did on the first.) In the beginning, Evan is understandably miffed by God’s work order, especially since the freshman representative is about to get a power boost from an alliance with a sleazy, environment-destroying congressman (played by John Goodman with the full force of corruption propelling his ample flesh). God insists, though, plying Evan with fewer and fewer wardrobe choices and more and more Old Testament hair — a reasonably funny setup, especially for a man obsessed with nose hair.
It’s when Noah sees the light, and he and his family begin working in harmony, that the story takes on water. Although Wanda Sykes, as Evan’s executive assistant, and Ed Helms, as (what else?) a preening yutz of a TV reporter, do what they can to keep the edges sharp, nothing can offset the picture’s dutiful Sunday-school intentions or the generic qualities of the CG animals that follow Noah in twosies. The message is so good-hearted, so inarguable, so dull. And here’s the punchline: Turns out that ARK stands for Acts of Random Kindness. Riiiight. C+