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Evan Almighty DVD Review

Evan Almighty movie poster Evan Almighty

Theatrical Release: June 22, 2007 / Running Time: 95 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Tom Shadyac

Cast: Steve Carell (Evan Baxter), Morgan Freeman (God), Lauren Graham (Joan Baxter), John Goodman (Congressman Long), John Michael Higgins (Marty), Jimmy Bennett (Ryan Baxter), Wanda Sykes (Rita), Jonah Hill (Eugene), Molly Shannon (Eve Adams), Graham Phillips (Jordan Baxter), Johnny Simmons (Dylan Baxter), Ed Helms (Ark Reporter Ed Carson), Rachael Harris (Ark Reporter), Brian Howe (Builder), Harve Presnell (Congressman Burrows), Madison Mason (Congressman Dodd), Bruce Gray (Congressman Hughes), Paul Collins (Congressman Stamp), Jim Doughan (Neighbor), Meagen Fay (Neighbor), Dean Norris (Officer Collins)

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If Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd and Son of the Mask taught Hollywood anything, it's that people aren't too interested in seeing prequels or sequels to Jim Carrey comedies if Carrey himself isn't involved. Universal knew that going into Evan Almighty, the follow-up to the studio's hugely profitable 2003 release Bruce Almighty, but they had reason to suspect this one was different.

For one thing, Evan finds Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman reprising his role as God. For another, the title role is held by Steve Carell, who was merely a correspondent on "The Daily Show" when he played the small part in the original, but has since graduated to a leading man on TV's "The Office" and theatrical fare like The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Keeping Carell in the NBC Universal family, Evan also gave the star a chance to headline a movie on the side of his full work weeks portraying Scranton boss Michael Scott.

Upon opening, Evan quickly bids farewell to the Buffalo news station where its predecessor was set. Evan Baxter (Carell), the reporter who memorably spoke in gibberish after Carrey's temporarily omnipotent protagonist got to him, is leaving TV journalism (and Bruce's Catherine Bell, who makes a cameo) behind for a career as a congressman. Uprooting his wife (Lauren Graham, "Gilmore Girls") and three sons in a gas-guzzling Hummer to a newly-built home in Virginia, it's clear that Evan could be a little more considerate to his family and to the environment. Anyone doubting that these are among the lessons to be learned should take note of the PG rating. We're in Family Film Land, kids, where workaholic middle-aged fathers are good guys who just need a push to discover what's really important in life.

Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) is surprised to find a man claiming to be God (Morgan Freeman) instantly appearing in the backseat of his Hummer. Birds of various feathers flock together and perch on the shoulders and outstretched arms of Virginia congressman Evan Baxter.

Not that the PG-13-rated Bruce was any more subtle or less cheesy in its design. Like Liar Liar, it was a high-concept project that would have been perfect for a TV movie, if only it wasn't a vehicle intended to let loose Carrey the $20-million-plus-per-film comedian. Evan is similar in structure, but even bigger on visual gags. This sequel is somewhat open to Carell's more delicate brand of comedy, but it also pushes him to dabble in broad jokes that he doesn't seem fully comfortable with. Carell is less neutered by the picture than he is lost in it, forced to compete with no shortage of CGI animals, who are drawn to his character in pairs according to a narrative that's adapted from the book of Genesis' Noah's Ark story.

God, the wise, infinitely powerful, and usually white-clothed being (Freeman), instructs Evan to build an ark, beginning in suggestions before moving to utterly clear terms that predict a massive flood to occur on September 22nd. The film lifts a page directly from The Santa Clause by having Evan physically transform into something which resembles the common conception of Noah -- a white-bearded man adorned in flowing robes.
Meanwhile, animals, from birds to bigger beasts, keep following the congressman. Coupled with an increasingly unprofessional appearance, the trail of creatures threatens Evan's standing with Congress' anti-environment bigwig Chuck Long (John Goodman) and embarrasses a staff that includes a sassy deliverer of one-liners (Wanda Sykes) and well-researched young page (Jonah Hill, Superbad).

Evan Almighty doesn't fare too well in its efforts to balance environmentalist themes, its magical understanding of theology, standard-issue family problems, and a political setting. Successfully juggling all those elements would be an accomplishment anywhere, but doing it here -- where bodily humor is supposed to be offset by saccharinity -- would be an outright miracle. The uneasy mix of physical jokes and sentimentality is something that has repeatedly plagued the work of returning director Tom Shadyac (Patch Adams). This film is salvaged a bit by some funny moments in the screenplay that's credited entirely to Steve Oedekerk (one of Bruce's three scribes) and by a cast whose charisma can't all be kept under wraps. While having to play down to the movie proves a challenge, Carell remains likable enough and there's little doubt that Freeman is delivering exactly what's desired in portraying mankind's Creator as a wry prankster.

All eyes in Congress turn towards Evan as he makes a bold fashion statement with his robe, cloak, and crazy hair. Evan's photogenic wife (Lauren Graham) and three kids (Graham Phillips, Jimmy Bennett, Johnny Simmons) stay by his side as others cast doubt on his transformation.

Though the film fails to sustain interest as a piece of storytelling or source for steady laughs, one remains invested if only to figure out how Evan will get itself out of an amply-anticipated apocalyptic flood without making God look bad.

Much less a crowd-pleaser than its fairly inane antecedent, Evan Almighty just barely surpassed the $100 million mark at the domestic box office and has earned another $66 million overseas to date. Normally, that would qualify a comedy film as a hit and such a total is both rare and robust for a live-action family film. But Evan is reported to have cost about $200 million to produce and market, making it one of the most expensive comedies ever made and about twice as costly as Bruce. When one considers that Bruce grossed well over twice as much in North America and three times as much worldwide, it becomes pretty clear that Evan failed to meet the expectations of its makers.

Reading into this sequel's storied production history reveals it to be somewhat of a relief that the final product wasn't worse and that the film's big losses weren't even bigger. Still, it's tough to fathom, with a much smaller cast budget and fairly unremarkable visual effects, just where those $200 million went.

Buy Evan Almighty (Widescreen Edition) DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, Spanish),
Dolby Surround (French, Descriptive Video Service)
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French;
Closed Captioned
Release Date: October 9, 2007
Suggested Retail Price: $29.98
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps
Also available in Full Screen Edition DVD
and on HD DVD / DVD Combo

VIDEO and AUDIO

Evan Almighty comes to DVD in two different editions, one preserving its 2.35:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio and the other chopping it up to conform to "full screen" standards. The former was reviewed and is advocated.
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A film that cost around $200 million to make better look good on DVD and happily, Evan does, boasting an immaculate print, good colors, and no severe shortcomings. Those with a big screen display may detect some slight grain and edge enhancement, but it's not enough to mar the proceedings for anyone who isn't already buying "next generation" formats, of which Evan simultaneously arrives in a HD DVD/standard DVD combo.

Matching the picture quality, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack misses "jaw-dropping sensory delight" but lands squarely on "sufficiently pleasing." It's a pretty loud mix which is marked by John Debney's sappy score and a light, somewhat eclectic blend of recognizable pop tunes from the likes of John Fogerty, ZZ Top, and C+C Music Factory. Aside from the occasional animal noise emanating from a surround channel, the audio is fine but unremarkable.

In front of a promotional backdrop, Steve Carell introduces most of the Evan Almighty DVD extras with a sense of humor that's beyond understatement. Carell's one-time fellow "Daily Show" correspondent and current "The Office" castmate plays an Ark Reporter, of whom we see more in this deleted scene. In "Becoming Noah", time-lapse photography quickly shows the elaborate make-up and wig work needed to transform Steve Carell into a wild-haired, white-bearded Evan.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

With extras listed over four pages, Evan Almighty would appear to be extremely stacked in the bonus features department, but it all adds up to about 75 minutes of content, or less than what a commentary would run, had we not been gratefully spared that. Almost all the bonuses are needlessly introduced by Carell in a fairly serious fashion.

We begin with 14 minutes of deleted scenes, which include more to underscore Evan's environmental irresponsibility,
extended versions of his bathroom grooming rituals and the animals-in/on-Hummer sequence, a Wanda Sykes comic rant, and a dog rescue scene with a few unfinished effects. Next, a reel of outtakes (2:40) provides some Carell line-rifting, bloopers, and unscripted funnies.

Four featurettes follow. "The Ark-itects of Noah's Ark" (6:45) profiles the massive undertaking of building a 450-foot ship that's meant to look like the work of a father and three sons. It's pretty interesting in this age of rampant CGI. "Becoming Noah" (6:25) details the arduous daily process of transforming Steve Carell with make-up and wigs. One can't help but feel bad that so much work went into such an unexceptional film. "Steve Carell Unscripted" (3:10) showcases the actor's various hijinks on-set and between takes. The footage could have easily joined the other outtakes. "Animals On Set Two by Two" (12:48) allows cast and crew members an opportunity to discuss working with and among wild animals and to sing trainers' praises.

Matching the picture to the creature is the easy part of the Animal Roundup Game. Actress and comedienne Wanda Sykes is among the cast members who reveal "It's Easy Being Green" with nature-friendly tips. Computer graphics depict what would happen if Washington D.C. got really wet in "A Flood of Visual Effects."

In the Animal Roundup Game, players match a pictured animal with its pair, then answer an animal trivia question. It's not really clear if you're right or wrong, unless you've select the hint button, in which case young actor Jimmy Bennett provides sufficient help without giving you the answer outright. Three wrong answers and you lose, i.e. the flood comes. Otherwise, play continues for a while, providing light fun and some good wildlife education.

Back-patting piece "The Almighty Green Set" (5:25) lets those involved boast about the environmental awareness of the production, from using bikes to recycling wood from the ark.

Keeping with the environmentalist themes, "It's Easy Being Green" (4:38) features cast members reading fun facts about how to be good to Mother Earth and be healthy. Carell's deadpanning pays off here enough to make the suspect preaching worth enduring. Look out, Al Gore, this Evan Almighty DVD may be trying to take your place as global warming's archnemesis.

In "Acts of Random Kindness" (1:45), the stars and director briefly discuss ARKs that they believe in or appreciate. "A Flood of Visual Effects" (7:08) focuses on the CGI work done by Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) on the watery climax scenes. "Casting Call: Serengeti" (2:50) is part amusing tongue-in-cheek featurette on casting wild animals and part "look at how eco-friendly General Electric is." The last 30 seconds is a pure commercial for GE, Universal's parent company.

The Main Menu's montage cycles through a large number of sight gags. You may recognize the beard that grows back gag from Disney's 13-year-old family comedy "The Santa Clause." Evan Almighty strikes a Marilyn Monroe-type pose in the third of four menus that stretch out the Bonus Features.

Finally, stretching the bounds of one's patience is "The Almighty Forest", a 6-minute scroll of the names of people who helped plant a tree through NBC Universal's "Get on Board" campaign.
If you're not one of the thousands of people listed here, there's no reason to watch. If you are, bravo, you're sure to impress people by pointing out your name.

The animated main menu cycles through a large collection of quick, broad shots set to goofy score and with occasional dialogue punctuation. Employing clip art of imagery from the film, submenus are static and, with the exception of the busily-scored Bonus Features screens, silent.

The only insert inside the keepcase is an ad that's ironically about reducing paper waste (I'm not joking). As they do with high billing, Carell and Freeman share the spine, with each claiming a rectangle headshot.

A skippable collection of promos play at disc insertion for The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie, Bring It On: In It to Win It, "The Office": Season Three, and HD DVD in general. No trailers for Evan Almighty are anywhere to be found.

The fish in Congressman Long's tank flock towards the man who bears some resemblance to Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer. Aboard his completed ark, Evan strikes a very biblical pose.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

For being the most expensive comedy ever made, Evan Almighty doesn't offer viewers a lot. There are a few chuckles and laughs, but not nearly enough to justify the ballooned budget. The funny moments derive more from the principal performers (who are capable of better) than the extensive but unsatisfactory CGI work. It's not that the interesting story of Noah's Ark can't be applied to contemporary life; it's just that the movie's notion of religious comedy leaves lots to be desired. It wants to preach environmental awareness one moment, then cover its cast with animal excrement in others.

Universal's DVD isn't unique in providing high quality picture and sound. Its 75 minutes of bonus features shed a little light on production, but it's a glossy and family-friendly look behind the scenes. Outtakes and deleted scenes are complemented by the obligatory effects and makeup pieces, and joined by preachy and promotional environment-minded extras.

On the whole, Evan isn't completely dreadful, but it's uninspired, uneven, and undeserving of an unseen purchase. Families who enjoy this decade's other dad-driven family flicks, like Steve Martin's Cheaper by the Dozen movies and Tim Allen's The Santa Clause sequels, would probably find enough of interest to at least justify a rental, but Evan fails to reach even the modest heights of those comedies.

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Related Reviews:
The Santa Clause (Special Edition) The Santa Clause 2 Unaccompanied Minors Night at the Museum
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer TMNT The Shaggy Dog (2006) Jungle 2 Jungle Hot Fuzz Wild Hogs
The Last Flight of Noah's Ark Noah's Ark (1959) Scrubs: The Complete Fifth Season Blades of Glory Knocked Up

The Cast of Evan Almighty:
Steve Carell: Get Smart (2-Disc Special Edition) Dr. Seuss' Horton Hears a Who! Dan in Real Life
Lauren Graham: The Pacifier | Morgan Freeman: An Unfinished Life Gone Baby Gone
John Goodman: Monsters, Inc. The Emperor's New Groove | Wanda Sykes: Brother Bear 2
Molly Shannon: A Night at the Roxbury | Paul Collins: Peter Pan | Jimmy Bennett: Pooh's Heffalump Halloween Movie

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Reviewed October 9, 2007.



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