“Sermon on the Ark”

I’ve always struggled with the story of Noah’s Ark as kid friendly fare. After all, it’s the story of God sending a flood to destroy most of the life on the planet due to the extreme corruption running rampant. Somehow that didn’t seem the stuff for Sunday School flannel graphs, no matter how cute the animals were. Now along comes Evan Almighty attempting to wring laughs from this back-story.

Bruce Almighty, the 2003 comedy hit, sought to answer the interesting hypothetical of what we would do if we encountered God in a real, tangible way. Director Tom Shadyac and writer Steve Oedekerk return, upgrading Steve Carell (The 40-Year-Old Virgin and The Office) to lead in order to fill Jim Carrey’s vacant shoes. Morgan Freeman also reprises his role at God.

For the sequel, Evan Baxter wins a congressional seat then piles his wife, Joan (Lauren Graham, Gilmore Girls) and three sons — Dylan (Johnny Simmons), Jordan (Graham Phillips) and Ryan (Jimmy Bennett) — into their Hummer and move to Washington. She prays for them to become closer as a family, he prays to figure out a way to change the world. God appears and cajoles him into building an ark. Wackiness ensues.

Unfortunately, Evan Almighty suffers from the same sort of bloat that has infected other summer blockbusters, such as Spider-Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Being the most expensive comedy ever made, the movie has succumbed to the overblown, bigger is better, mentality. Though Wanda Sykes joins John Michael Higgins and Jonah Hill (Accepted) in getting the most laughs from the thin material given; John Goodman walks through his role as villainous politician. Steve Carell works his particular brand of “dull everyman in awkward situation” laugh magic. Yet the movie still relies on corny poop jokes to propel this vehicle designed for kids and their paying parents.

“God, please help me change the world.” –Evan

At its core, Evan Almighty is a message movie masquerading as a comedy. Evan Baxter sets the laudable goal for himself of wanting to change the world, to make a difference with the time he has been given in life. So even though he’s not much of the praying type, he’s willing to take all the help he can get. As Evan begins his journey of faith, we find that he is not living in tune with his beliefs: his agenda is all about appearance and power, climbing the corporate ladder at the expense of his family. People who want to change the world typically don’t know where to begin, often overlooking the obvious in starting where they are, at home.

“Get it out, son. It’s the beginning of wisdom.” –God

Evan enters into a dialogue with God, not realizing that the answer to his prayers may not be the kind of answers he had in mind. God’s plans are not always a part of our plans.: when He does break into our lives, it’s rarely convenient, though not all of us will experience animals showing up at our workplace two by two. Partly, this stems from us having little idea who God is other than what we tend to project onto Him. Praying for love or patience may result in God giving us opportunities to love or to be patient.

Evan’s journey of faith not only tests his faith, but also the love of his family, providing some of the films few honest feeling moments. For example, when God tells Evan “Whatever I do, I do because I love you” Evan replies “Do me a favor: love me less.” Or when Joan explains that “Maybe God didn’t mean a literal flood …” it causes Evan to exclaim “If that’s true, I’m gonna be so pissed.”

“I like stories.” –God

So what does an old story have to teach us? It’s a love story about faith, story, and a plan. It’s a story that goes back to seeing “the original design” of Creation, thus, one of the reasons for the movie’s strong environmentalism message. As the story catches us where we are today, it exposes the sins of modern life such as twisted ideas of beauty (“When you’re in the public eye, image is everything” says Evan. “You care too much about your outward appearance” replies God ), corporate greed, political corruption, and idolaters of magnitude (bigger houses, bigger cars).

“I don’t understand why you chose me,” may mark the beginning of Evan’s spiritual journey. Yet, if we try to seek God, we too might start to see Him everywhere. In the seeking, we become transformed into the types of people He wants us to be and the faith result is demonstrated in the doing, even though they seem like the little things, one Act of Random Kindness at a time. By the end, we’re caught up in a dance with God and come to understand that “He chose all of us.”

“So how about it? Feel like living on the edge?” –God

Despite its demonization, Hollywood isn’t stupid. In this post-The Passion of the Christ age, they know there is a market left largely untapped and uncourted and have no qualms about turning over every cushion in the church couch to get at that extra change. The comparisons between Evan Almighty and Bruce Almighty are inevitable with Bruce Almighty feeling more authentic and honest; while Evan Almighty strains to be safe and inoffensive. I had the nagging feeling that I was watching a sequel to Oh God (though I’d take Morgan Freeman over George Burns any day) rather than Bruce Almighty.

A bit more heavy-handed than the first, Evan Almighty panders to the family friendly, moral majority crowd and feels a little like preaching to the choir. The laughs are a little forced—I kept waiting for a laugh track cue—slapstick in lieu of organic comedic moments. It’s a Hollywood Sunday School confection—with none of Noah’s post-flood nude, drunken activities—with a genial predictability that succeeds at the expense of being engaging. A harmless film parents can take their kids to guilt-free.

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