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Evan Almighty

By Harry Forbes
Catholic News Service

NEW YORK (CNS) -- Funnyman Steve Carell might not seem a likely choice for a present-day Noah, replete with white beard and flowing robe, but he turns out to be just dandy in "Evan Almighty" (Universal/Spyglass), a delightful contemporary spin on Genesis.

At the outset, Carell (reprising his TV anchorman role from "Bruce Almighty") is leaving the nightly news desk in Buffalo, N.Y., having just been elected to Congress.

Together with his wife, Joan (Lauren Graham), and their three young sons -- Dylan (Johnny Simmons), Jordan (Graham Phillips) and Ryan (Jimmy Bennett) -- they move into a luxurious new home in the fictitious town of Huntsville, Va. Before retiring to bed that first night, he kneels at his bedside and prays to God to "change the world."

At work, he meets his chief of staff, Marty (John Michael Higgins), administrative assistant Rita (Wanda Sykes), fawning intern Eugene (Jonah Hill) and his patron -- powerful Congressman Long (John Goodman) -- who wants him to co-sponsor a major bill.

He takes the assignment as a great honor, but it will mean reneging on his promise to spend time with his boys.

The stage is set for an ideal life, but suddenly unwanted lumber and tools begin showing up on his front lawn. And his digital alarm clock-radio starts setting itself to 6:14 -- the verse in Genesis containing God's injunction to Noah to build an ark. Then those numbers start showing up everywhere else, too. Is someone trying to tell him something?

Even when Evan is visited by God (in the person of Morgan Freeman) who speaks of an impending flood, Evan refuses to accept the obvious. But before long, especially with birds and animals suddenly besieging him two by two, he comes to accept his mission, much to the skeptical consternation of his staff and wife.

Director Tom Shadyac and screenwriter Steve Oedekerk skillfully mix slapstick with sentiment and surprising reverence. The script has admirable pro-family and pro-environmental themes, the latter providing sensible rationale for the biblical events as they play out.

All these elements are beautifully embodied in Carell's seriocomic central performance. Early on, Carell gets to do his comic shtick, including being bitten in the crotch by a mutt, shaving his nostril hair in an extended montage, and coping with the swarm of birds that poop on his suit as they perch on his head.

But as he starts to morph into Noah, with a beard he simply cannot shave off, and rough-hewn ancient robe he cannot remove, the funny shenanigans subside and he projects warmth and humanity through his eyes alone. Frankly, Carell's playing Noah and indeed the central section of the "serious" part of the story are far better done than the comparable John Huston sequence in 1966's "The Bible."

Freeman's God is likewise carefully and reverently written and enacted. His gentle advice to Joan -- who has left home with the kids, thinking Evan has lost his mind -- is a special high point.

The paired animals (part real, part computer graphics), the flood effects and even the physical ark itself are heart-stoppingly beautiful in their execution, and there's a powerful message stressing the importance of performing one act of random kindness at a time to change the world.

The film contains a smattering of mildly crass language, humor, irreverence and innuendo. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-II -- adults and adolescents. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG -- parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

- - -

Forbes is director of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. More reviews are available online at www.usccb.org/movies.

END


Copyright (c) 2007 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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