EVAL ALMIGHTY directed by Tom Shadyac, written by Steve Oedekerk, with Steve Carell, Morgan Freeman and Lauren Graham. An NBC/Universal release. 101 minutes. Opens Friday (June 22). Rating: NN
Amid the plagues, pestilence, pillars of salt and a whole mess of begatting, it's hard to see the humour in the Good Book. Although, as George Carlin has observed, God does have a sense of humour - just look at the platypus.
So as far as Biblical comedies go, Evan Almighty ranks right up there with Oh, God! You Devil in the yuks department. It's a mildly amusing bit of family entertainment that stars mildly amusing leading man Steve Carell as Evan Baxter.
Baxter's the blithering Buffalo news anchor from the original Bruce Almighty who shepherds his family to Washington after he's elected to Congress on a vague campaign promise to change the world.
One crisis of conscience and a late-night 911 call to the man upstairs (Morgan Freeman) later and Evan is growing a beard of Old Testament proportions, being stalked by pairs of birds, bobcats and bears - oh, my! - and reading Ark Building For Dummies. Seems a flood's a-coming and Evan is the new Noah.
The story is strictly paint-by-Deuteronomy, er, Numbers, offering little in the way of Revelations.
While Evan tries to convince everyone, including his wife (Lauren Graham), that he's not nuts and struggles over whether to support an environmentally questionable bill proposed by an evil congressman (John Goodman), a painfully obvious "Dad's too busy to spend time with the kids" subplot fills the time until the rains come.
The humour is merely smile-worthy (God pledging allegiance to "one nation under Me"), and it's the rare gag (a movie theatre marquee advertising The 40-Year-Old Virgin Mary, for example) that provides any real guffaws.
Of course, Evan Almighty is foremost a family comedy aimed squarely at the same God-fearing churchgoers (and their kids) who made The Passion Of The Christ a blockbuster.
But even for a film with God as a main character, this one lays on the Christian moralizing with great zeal. Beyond the overt eco message about saving the planet are lessons about the importance of family, faith and doing unto others, etc, etc.
And along the way the filmmakers take a few liberties with Scripture. They forget that after God drowned the planet, he promised never to do it again. And Freeman's ever-benevolent God says the Biblical flood wasn't about His wrath as much as it was about bringing people together. That's a cheery rainbow-capped way of looking at an apocalyptic event post-Katrina and tsunami.
Of course, the kiddies will dig the flowing beard, the crazy animals (pooping birds and all) and Carell's Evan hitting himself repeatedly with a wooden mallet and falling off his ark.
Unfortunately, this comedy of Biblical proportions - at close to $200 million the most expensive comedy ever - is about as funny as an egg-laying beaver with a duck's bill.