Evan Baxter, star of the new comedy Evan Almighty, wants to change the world, and he’s well on his way. With a new career in Congress, he’s poised to have the kind of powerful and meaningful life that others only dream of. He is also preposterously image-oriented: He shaves his nostrils, on the insides, and rejects all animals as dirty. Every morning he stands in front of his mirror and repeats his mantra: “Successful, Powerful, Handsome, Happy.” And he is all of these things.
Until, that is, he asks God for help. Evan’s wholesome sons pray before bed — his wife calls it “the cutest thing” — and Evan follows their example, inviting God into his campaign to save the world. He prays a funny but earnest prayer, ending with “Ok, I’m hanging up now.” Evan goes to bed, his relationship with God another checkmark on his perfect list of a life.
That’s when the weirdness starts: the delivery of a mysterious box of tools from “Alpha and Omega Hardware” and a load of wood from “Go-4-Wood,” as well as the recurrence of the number 614 — as in Genesis 6:14, in which God commands Noah to build an ark. God, it appears, also has designs to change the world, but they don’t center on Evan’s Congressional career. In fact, God’s plans don’t mesh with Evan’s at all.
God, played with smiling gravitas by Morgan Freeman, is loving yet relentless in his pursuit of Evan once invited into his life. When Evan ignores the omens and goe about his previously scheduled Congressional work, he finds himself stalked by animals paired off in twos: two kitties on his doorstep, two doves flapping in the air above him, two sheep in his SUV. His frantic attempts to maintain his clean-shaven look fail: His beard and hair grow to the long prophet tresses seen on Charlton Heston in The Ten Commandments. He sets aside the flowing robes God sent him for his snappy suit, but God dematerializes the suit, leaving him naked in front of the mail carrier. God, it seems, can prank along with the best of them. Steve Carell, playing Evan, faces these difficulties with gentle humor, although at times you can’t shake the feeling the movie should be funnier.
The film is completely respectful of the story of Noah, and faith in general. God is clearly good, clearly involved, and clearly in charge. Although the movie has a hint of environmentalism, involving a story line about development of park lands, it is not the main thrust of the story. Global warming, carbon footprints, and recycling are not the moral. Instead, God at one point shows Evan the valley as He made it, reminiscing fondly about sculpting the mountains and aligning them to maximize sunshine. He is Creator, in charge over creation.
Rated PG for mild rude humor (mostly involving animal poop) and some peril (a wild but somehow not dangerous boat ride), the film is entirely suitable for children, who will love the animal scenes. There aren’t any of those double entrendres, adult references, or even mildly nasty language that sometimes broadside families attending movies. In a thumb-whacking, head-knocking construction montage, Evan utters nothing stronger than “Father! Sister! Brother! Wow!” Evan’s sons come off as stock characters and interchangeable, part of an often repeated story line about spending time with family.
It’s a wonderful thing to see a movie that addresses faith, offers insights on the nature of God, and entertains as well. It is certainly a Hollywood step in the right direction. And yet, one wishes it weren’t quite so completely unobjectionable. Everything wraps up with a neat little rainbow. The role of God in judging humanity, very clearly described in the real story of Noah, is glossed over. The previous offering from director and producer Tom Shadyac, Bruce Almighty, addressed theology with more courage. Even if one didn’t agree with every nuance of Bruce Almighty, it made the audience think. Evan Almighty ends with a Sunday School lesson about changing the world with one random act of kindness at a time, a nice little formula albeit one that minimizes the passion, the sacrifice, the messiness, and the danger that a life of faith involves. It’s a sweet, stained-glass window of a message, but the real thing is more untamed.
– Rebecca Cusey writes from Washington, D.C.