God (Morgan Freeman) appears to newly-elected congressman Evan Baxter (Carrell) and instructs him to build an ark. Evan resists, but animals start following him (in pairs), so he begins work on the big boat in the expectation that a flood will come.
Bruce Almighty was the one where God (Morgan Freeman) decided to take a holiday and let an ordinary schlub (Jim Carrey) have all his powers for a spell. This follow-up was originally intended to bring back Bruce, but Carrey (and co-star Jennifer Aniston) fell out of the package. Steve Carell, who had a good comic bit in the first film, meanwhile saw his stock rise thanks to hit films and the US version of The Office. Like Jeff Goldblum in The Lost World: Jurassic Park and, um, Fisher Stevens in Short Circuit 2, he therefore makes the leap from supporting stooge to sequel star.
Bigger, blander and less funny than Bruce Almighty, itself hardly a smash of Biblical proportions, Evan Almighty lays into two major arenas of current global controversy (religion and politics) in so toothless a manner that no-one could possibly be offended. Carell’s Evan is a neurotic sit-com dad with one-joke office staff (suck-up John Michael Higgins, sassy-snide Wanda Sykes) and an endlessly patient wife (Lauren Graham in a thankless role) who has to mother her childish spouse as well as her three clean-cut sons. Evil congressman John Goodman, a latter-day incarnation of the blowhards Keenan Wynn used to play in Disney films, wants to concrete over national parks for profit (boo! Hiss!), but clearly doesn’t represent US domestic policy - any more than Evan’s ark-building antics has anything to do with any specific denomination or church. Evan becomes Noah by growing an instant beard, eating pitta bread (‘unleavened’, y’see) and being forced to wear a robe - there’s no sense that he might, for instance, have to become Jewish to pull off the patriarch act.
By taking the easy way out to get family-loving US Christians into theatres rather than leaving them outside picketing, Evan Almighty consistently misses sources of humour. When an ark rises in suburbia, disbelieving hordes come to mock and jeer - though, in real life, a significant percentage of the population would surely start building their own boats and gloating about the End Times. And just in case you were worrying that the story of the Flood suggests a wrathful and judgemental divinity, Freeman’s God reassures us by telling Evan that murdering every man, woman, child and animal on the planet except for one man, his dependents and their pets was all about giving Noah and his relatives a chance to be “closer as a family”. Lines like this make you pray for something funny and potentially blasphemous to come along, but instead all you get are animal-poo jokes.
Freeman, who seemed well-cast last time round, is lumbered with material which makes him seem unctuous, obnoxious or foolish - especially when he leads the whole cast and crew in a self-regarding mass twit-dance during the end credits. With all the animals represented in neat monogamous pairs (did Noah really need two amoebae?) and a sort-of-deluge in the last reel, this splashed out on a ton of CG effects and neglected the funny. But even then, meeting the release date was evidently more important than getting the shots right.
As modern-day re-stagings of Bible stories go, this is oddly less funny than The Reaping. Next time, for real laughs, do the story of Job.