Midway through the 2003 smash hit Bruce Almighty, Jim Carreys newly omnipotent news reporter used his powers to render pompous anchorman Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) hilariously tongue-tied during an on-air appearance. Carells befuddled verbal gymnastics made for one of the few bright spots in an otherwise startlingly moronic comedy about how divinity isnt all its cracked up to be. (Imagine that!) Relievedly, in Evan Almighty, the long-in-the-works sequel (which plays more like a big-budget redo of the 1977 George Burns/John Denver vehicle Oh God!), director Tom Shadyac and screenwriter Steve Oedekerk had the good sense to dump Bruce altogether and focus solely on Evan, who here moves on from the TV-news gambit to another job where smiling appearances are everything: He gets elected to Congress. Predictably, no sooner does Baxter arrive on Capitol Hill than everyone seemingly wants a piece of him, from a fat-cat senior representative (John Goodman), whos pushing a decidedly eco-unfriendly piece of legislation, to God (Morgan Freeman) himself, who tells Evan to build an ark because, natch, floods are coming. Reportedly one of the most expensive movies ever made, Evan Almighty feels market-researched within a cubit of its life, from its strategic mix of biblical homilies and save-the-planet platitudes to the inevitable heartstring-tugging about how building an ark turns the career-obsessed Evan into a more devoted family man. (Expect plywood sales to soar nationwide in the wake of the movies release.) What makes the film transcend its limitations is Carell, whose square, Father Knows Best demeanor belies a supreme comic self-confidence and whose implacability in the face of the movies CGI-intensive animal antics can be marvelous to behold. Those visual effects, which entailed the digital scanning of hundreds of live animals, are also pretty marvelous, though you cant stop wondering what a director with a truly antic visual imagination (a Joe Dante or a Robert Zemeckis, say) might have made of them. Shadyac, who earlier piloted Bruce Almighty to a $250 million domestic gross, is more like a careful, canny businessman and technician who makes movies calculated to appeal equally to moviegoers red and blue, black and white and rack up lots and lots of green. (Citywide)
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