- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

Hollywood tried to make a sequel to a Jim Carrey movie once before without the famed rubber man, and we got the appalling “Son of the Mask.” “Evan Almighty” is another story, and a biblical one to boot. The new comedy, a sequel-of-sorts to the 2003 hit “Bruce Almighty,” has the good fortune of starring established funnyman Steve Carell.

While “Son of the Mask’s” Jamie Kennedy strained to emulate Mr. Carrey’s mojo, Mr. Carell brings a quieter persona to the mix. It’s uptight and coiled, just right for this family friendly franchise extender.

Evan Almighty” begins with a frantic setup, telling us how Evan Baxter (Mr. Carell), the broadcaster who melted down during “Bruce,” segued from reading headlines to making news as Buffalo’s newest congressman.

Evan relocates his family to a prefabricated Virginia suburb, ready to change the world one bill at a time. The trouble starts when his alarm clock keeps waking him up at 6:14 (the chapter and verse numbers of the Noah’s Ark story in Genesis). Then, a mysterious stranger (Morgan Freeman) appears, claiming to be God himself.


The Almighty wants Evan to build an ark, a ridiculous notion for anyone, let alone a freshman representative already locking horns with Congressman Long (John Goodman, why don’t we see you more often these days?).

Evan writes off the godly visions as his overactive imagination. When he grows a beard he can’t shave away and animals two by two start stalking him, he realizes the nutty stranger with the ark fixation is very real indeed.

The new congressman already has trouble spending quality time with his family, and with the ark project looming, the stress threatens to fracture their bond.

Let’s applaud director Tom Shadyac, who also directed “Bruce,” for making every gag in “Evan” a primer in pinpoint timing. Adults won’t laugh as much as the kiddies — at whom “Evan” is clearly aimed — but the humor arrives at a steady, satisfying clip despite the avalanche of feces-related bits.

Evan” also provides Mr. Carell with a new “office” of loonies, including Wanda Sykes, Jonah Hill (“Knocked Up”) and John Michael Higgins. Their presence spares Mr. Carell from careening into Carreyland, a place where a film’s star must mug shamelessly to provide the laughs. And few others could play the Big Guy with as much gravitas and tenderness as Mr. Freeman.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a slicker slice of Hollywood pie than “Evan,” what with its smart camera angles and punchy score. The reason for the film’s rumored budget, around $175 million, becomes clear once the ark hits water, but until then the sweetest effect is how seamlessly the various animals flock around Evan.

Evan Almighty” may be a sequel, but it’s squeaky clean and feels fresher than most of this summer’s competition.

***

TITLE: “Evan Almighty

RATING: PG: Mild comic violence.

CREDITS: Directed by Tom Shadyac. Written by Steve Oedekerk based on characters created by Steve Koren and Mark O’Keefe

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