Without a doubt, newscaster Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) stole the show in Bruce Almighty when Bruce Nolan (Jim Carey) — armed with power from on high — manipulated Baxter’s voice into babbling nonsense while on the air. I have rewound that scene a dozen times and still laugh. Carell is back in the sequel, Evan Almighty, and the laughs don’t miss a beat without Jim Carey. Supporting cast members John Michael Higgins, Wanda Sykes, and Jonah Hill are effortlessly hilarious.
Baxter has moved from anchorman to congressman with a pledge to “Change the world.” Having God (Morgan Freeman) show up and ask him to build an ark in his backyard was hardly what Evan had in mind with his high-falutin campaign pledge. Furthermore, his congressional career looks like it could be exceedingly short-lived when he attracts animals like St. Francis of Assisi and morphs into a slightly sheepish-looking John the Baptist — not exactly the Giorgio Armani power image needed on Capitol Hill.
In following God’s appeal, complete with a copy of Ark Building for Dummies, Evan is severely misunderstood by his friends, family, and colleagues. They think he’s nuts or going through a midlife crisis. Once a man who was fastidiously germ-phobic, well-manicured, and immaculately groomed, Evan is now sharing a glass of lemonade with a baboon and seeking the help of a giraffe and elephant for his monumental task. He is ridiculed while trying to do the right thing — all the while knowing that he is either going to be saving his mocking neighbors from doom or end up being the punch line of their jokes for a lifetime.
With his catapulted success through the television series The Office and other film projects, Carell’s star is on the rise. Hollywood is banking that the spiritually-minded director Tom Shadyac is able to parlay his comedic genius (Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Liar Liar, The Nutty Professor) into box-office success.
“The studios are aware the faith-based audiences exist — it’s the great x-factor,” says Shadyac. “They have evidence that there are people out there that can come to the movies in droves if they feel a kindred spirit with the themes and tones of the movie.”
Although it made a pile of money, churchgoers had mixed feelings about Bruce Almighty. They cringed at some of the adult humor and suggestive innuendos involving an unmarried couple, as well as some of the choices that a self-centered guy would make regarding how to use and abuse unlimited divine power.
Audiences don’t have to worry about that kind of material in the sequel. This was definitely made with the family in mind. Evan Almighty is a funny and witty film revolving around political corruption, bird droppings, fatherly responsibility, conservation, family cohesion, and more bird droppings. It’s a cross between Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Dr. Doolittle — with an Old Testament motif and a dash of the Audubon Society thrown in.
“It was a conscious effort to invite everyone to this movie,” says Shadyac. “I thought it’d be insane not to invite a two-year-old and a grandparent and everyone in between. The ark story speaks to everyone and I thought this movie ought to.”
Shadyac draws a distinction between Evan Almighty and its predecessor. “I want to respect parents,” he says. “If I’m inviting a kid, I want to be respectful of what they’re hearing. It’s a different movie than Bruce Almighty — no sexual innuendo. This is an ark story.”
Of all the biblical epics, the ark story is monumental in its scope — even with computer generated images and special effects. There were 177 different species at one time or another on the set. “It’s Noah’s ark. You have to have lots of animals,” Shadyac said. “We have the most animals ever shot practically in a movie in show business history.”
When asked how many different kinds of animals there were at one time, Carell deadpanned: “We had all animals, frankly, together that would not eat one another.” He should know, he became quite, um, close to many of them. Birds nested in his hair, pythons slithered down his shirt, and a baboon bared his fangs when Carell improvised and raised his voice at the creature.
“After the take,” recalled Carell, “the trainer came up and said, ‘Yeah, you know, don’t do that. As a matter of fact, don’t look the baboon in the eye.’ I said, ‘What? Maybe you should have told me that before we started this whole scene.’ So the next time, I was like [saying to the baboon], ‘Don’t kill me.’”
But Carell also had his highlights with the animal cast. “There was this one scene where the giraffe comes up with a bucket in its mouth and comes right up to me. I was two feet away,” he said. “And you look into a giraffe’s eyes and, it sounds funny or kind of weird, but there is a very soulful quality to their face that you would never see from a distance.”
In addition to the menagerie of animals and to add to the authenticity of the Old Testament vibe, Shadyac literally reproduced an ark of a slightly-modified biblical scale in Crozet, Virginia. The elaborate vessel measured in at 80’ wide, 59’ high, and 260’ feet long. It was then digitally enhanced to match the dimensions of Noah’s ark in the Bible.
Shadyac’s attention to detail extends to his interest in the words spoken in the film by God, elegantly played once again by Morgan Freeman. “That voice you see in the movie, the God voice, is very personal to me, and I’m very exacting with it — how he delivers it, the way he says it,” says Shadyac.
Since Carell gained so much success with a film like The 40-Year-old Virgin, I was curious if he was worried about the religious inclinations of Evan Almighty. “No I don’t think so,” he said. “I saw it as a fable. The movie is what you want to take away from it and it just depends on who you are and where you come from. I think it speaks to most everybody. It’s about caring about one another. It’s about caring for our planet. It’s about making choices and leaps of faith and I think those are universal themes. I wasn’t fearful of it at all.”
As a father of two young children, he is anxious to watch the film with them. “My son just turned three and for his birthday my parents just sent him a little wooden ark set with a little wooden Noah and everything,” Carell said. “I am just thinking that he is going to start pointing to the Noah and saying, ‘Daddy.’”
– Steve Beard is the editor of Good News, as well as the creator of www.thunderstruck.org — a website devoted to faith and pop culture.