Movie Review: Evan Almighty (2007)

Evan Almighty ____________ 6/10
Engaging satirical flick for the whole family

Evan_AlmightyNo, Evan Almighty is not a contender for the Oscars, much less a serious threat to unseat political satire-comedy classics such as Wag the Dog, American Dreamz, or Man of the Year.  But it’s a reasonably intelligent family-friendly spoof of power politics and an extremely funny deflation of the socially ambitious political personality.

Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) is one such ambitious, though well-meaning, poli-person. The film begins with Evan leveraging his TV news persona to win a race for the United States Congress.  It’s always been his dream to reach this pinnacle of public service, and he’s also firmly attached to the frills of the job: a monster trophy home in the hills of Virginia, first-class office and staff, chauffeur and special parking privileges.

His first day on the job, neighboring Congressman Chuck Long (John Goodman), who has been in office for a long time, approaches Baxter to pre-endorse Long’s self-serving land-use bill.  Long feels Baxter’s notoriety and his cultivated anchor-man good looks—we see Baxter spending 10 minutes over the sink shaving and removing his nose hairs—will give Long the credibility he needs to push the bill through.

Baxter aims to please, but is conscientious to the point of insisting he, Baxter, read the bill first, which turns out to be several volumes!  He’s promised his wife (Lauren Graham) and kids to go nature hiking when he gets home from his first day, and now he isn’t able to.  So what are his priorities, right?

To make matters worse, some unknown person is shipping to the new Baxter house large bundles of lumber and a cartons of strange, antique woodworking tools.  Then this smiling old black man (Morgan Freeman) materializes at awkward times. Evan is the only one who can see the man.  The man identifies himself as God and instructs Evan to build an ark.

So that’s the basic setup.

Without going into much detail, the injunction to build the ark causes Evan no end of anxiety; he resists as long as possible. But God’s agenda dominates—part of God’s persuasiveness is turning Evan from his highly manicured, dapper image into a hirsute Noah, producing several hilarious fashion faux pas sequences—causing Evan to slip off the fast track with Congressman Long and Evan’s family to wonder about his sanity. Evan’s Congressional staff, especially his secretary Rita (played with admirable comic restraint by Wanda Sykes), also does a double-take.

Speaking of hilarious sequences: an upshot of Evan struggling with the notion of building an ark finally has him doing something together with his three boys. (According to the DVD extras, the producers actually arrange for the layout and construction of a Biblically dimensioned ark!  Seeing how such an ark might have been built is truly fascinating, it appeals to the Red Green Show side of your average guy.) Steve Carell’s gags and pratfalls during the construction scenes are worthy of Buster Keaton or Chevy Chase, and left me rolling around laughing my ass off.

Basically, I find the movie to be a kids’ movie that adults, at least adults like me, can thoroughly enjoy.  You can see the unsubtle theme being advocated: be true to your family and Mother Nature, and they’ll be true to you; as a corollary, the true slimy politicians are those who feather their own nests (by serving powerful corporate interests).  I’m fine with that anti-corporate greed theme, but I’d like to make a couple of comments in clarification…

See my book review of Moral Politics here.

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