Sunday, August 31, 2008

Movie Post Mortem: Evan Almighty

I avoided Evan Almighty when it was in the theaters because it had less than stellar reviews and a bad IMDB rating. Too much about it should've sent it off the charts: It reunited director Tom Shadyac with screenwriter Steve Oedekirk, with a way more appealing leading man in Steven Carrel. (Jim Carrey was good in the original but Carrel actually steals the movie in the scenes he's in.)

Now that it's rolled around to On Demand, we've watched it. Actually, The Flower really likes it, so we've watched it more than once. We all agree that it doesn't really work (except for The Flower, obviously).

In the original, you may recall, Jim Carrey was a self-absorbed jerk who caught a few bad breaks and took it out on God (Morgan Freeman, who predicted he would be cast as God after being cast as President in Deep Impact). God responds by giving him unlimited power, thereby giving Bruce enough rope to hang himself. There're a lot of sight gags and slapstick, and a litle bit of power fantasy, all of which conspire to make a fun watch.

Evan boldly follows up by abandoning the premise and most of the major setups of the original: There's no extended "you're not really God" slapstick (some, but nothing like Bruce); Bruce was self-absorbed but Evan, in this movie, has clearly changed to be a caring person with good ideals, though still very flawed; Evan doesn't get God's powers and so we don't get the sight gags associated with the abuse of those powers; Evan's tasked with building an ark, so we get building and animal gags; Bruce's lesson of humility has more to do with not being self-absorbed while Evan is more of a Job figure--his lessons are more about listening to God and having an appreciation for small acts of kindness rather than large scale efforts.

This should've been a great, great movie, just looking at it on paper. Better than the original, potentially. So why isn't it?

First, and foremost, there aren't enough gags, and a great many of the gags are tired. For example, the always enjoyable Wanda Sykes seems to have fallen into a number of roles lately that are less humor and more sassy stereotype, this being a prime example. The animals tend to lend more "cute" than actual "funny". Jonah Hill (he of many Apatow films like Knocked Up and Superbad) adds a mildly weird edge that provides for a little offbeat humor.

But a great deal of the jokes that are presented are very standard. And there just aren't enough.

The Boy feels it doesn't work because Evan is a clearly decent human and God is just messing with him. Bruce needed a lesson in humility because he was completely self-absorbed. Evan is only quirkily self-obsessed with grooming and cleanliness. God totally messes up his life with facial hair and ancient clothing where Bruce only reaps what he himself has sown.

There's a lesson about faith here, as well, in God and in each other, which is quite nice. But, for example, Evan's relationship with his wife (Lauren Graham, who's as cute as can be) is not so well illustrated that her loss of faith in Evan doesn't seem hard enough. Compare with Jennifer Anniston in the original: Bruce had to pile on insensitivity after insensitivy after self-absorption after complete unawareness of what she wanted.

So that tension is missing the front end.

There's some attempt to create tension with the kids which is somewhat more successful.

This is not to say there aren't some good moments in this movie. As much as I hate to lay blame anywhere, I'm inclined to lay it at the feet of Steve Oedekirk.

I love Steve-O. Kung Pow: Enter The Fist is one of the greatest, original comedy ideas in years. I'm seriously hoping he has a chance to make the sequel. But this movie fails in much the same way his Barnyard kid's movie fails. Which is to say, benignly but under a paucity of jokes and with Wanda Sykes doing sassy. Also, it's sort of fascinating to look at why it doesn't work. (In Barnyard's case, for example, consider the concept of male cows.)

Of course, dying is easy: Comedy is hard, and nobody hits it out of the park every time. With luck Steve-O is back on the ball and turning out some new classics.

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