Before it was softened into something more suitable for pop-up books and Happy Meals, the story of Noah's Ark was a classic piece of Old Testament wrath, with a vengeful God so fed up with the evils of mankind that He sent a flood to wipe out the planet, leaving only enough survivors to start life anew. It goes without saying that Evan Almighty, a kid-friendly follow-up to the Jim Carrey vehicle Bruce Almighty, is more Ronald McDonald than Holy Bible, but it didn't have to be this epically trite. From all appearances, there are only three reasons God produces a Great Flood here: 1. Because it's cute when animals gather two by two (though totally unnecessary, since the flood barely covers the Washington D.C. area). 2. Because he wants to a stop a piece of legislation that threatens to shave off federally protected parks for development purposes. 3. Because yet another upper-middle-class suburban dad needs to spend more time with his family. Seems like a lightning bolt and an African safari might have taken care of these problems much more efficiently.
Replacing Carrey with Steve Carell (who was only a bit player in Bruce Almighty) would seem like an upgrade, but Carell's affable goofball routine does little to unburden this grotesque $175 million mega-production. After making the leap from fatuous Buffalo TV anchor to U.S. congressman, Carell moves his wife (Lauren Graham) and their three sons to an upscale Virginia subdivision that's cut an ugly swath into a beautiful mountain valley. Having campaigned on a "Change The World" platform, Carell instantly forfeits his values to a powerful committee chair (John Goodman) who wants him to co-sponsor environmentally unsound legislation. When God, played again by Morgan Freeman, commissions him to build an ark, Carell initially balks, but God can be pretty persuasive.
Historically, throwing money at a comedy has never made it funnier, because there's nothing more cost-effective than a joke, and nothing more ruinous than a spectacle trampling all over it. Here, a modern-day Noah builds an ark of awe-inspiring proportions, but the biggest laugh the film can manage is a montage of construction mishaps that wouldn't be out of place on a Home Improvement episode. (For those keeping score, Universal paid about $58 million per laugh, though considering Tom Shadyac's history of directing commercially successful awful comedies—Bruce Almighty, Liar Liar, Patch Adams, The Nutty Professor, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective—some might find that figure ungenerous.) The Almighty movies are dogged by a fatal lack of imagination: Given the power of God, all Carrey could think to do was make his wife's breasts bigger and move a rung up the ladder at a local TV station; here, the world undergoes cataclysmic change just so a self-absorbed lawmaker can make good on his promise to take his kids hiking. It's amazing that the God in these films could conceive of a pancake breakfast, much less the Heavens and the Earth.