IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

‘Evan’ can wait — this film ain’t ‘Almighty’

The more serious the script becomes, the more uneasy the mixture of comedy and religiosity feels.

No. 2 on Jim Carrey’s list of top-grossing comedies, “Bruce Almighty” (2003) took in quite a few more dollars than “Liar Liar” or “Ace Ventura,” but not quite as much as his all-time chart topper, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.”

For the inevitable follow-up, “Evan Almighty,” however, the filmmakers — including the original’s director, Tom Shadyac — have dispensed with Carrey altogether. They’ve also done away with the first film’s theme: you won’t necessarily be happy (or effective) if you have God-like powers.

In its place, “Evan Almighty” offers a contemporary version of Noah’s obsession with building an ark. God starts dropping lumber on the lawn of a young Congressman’s home, animals from all continents begin to arrive in pairs, and the deity even leaves a handbook, “Ark Building for Dummies.”

Some original cast members are back. Morgan Freeman (smooth as ever) is literally playing God again, while Steve Carell, who had the small role of an insufferable news reporter, Evan Baxter, has been transformed into the hero. (Arguably more of a box-office draw than Carrey at this point, Carell’s character drives past a theater showing “The 40-Year-Old Virgin Mary.”)

In the opening scenes, Evan leaves his television job for his political role, and runs right into a veteran Congressman (John Goodman) who oozes greed. The longer Evan hangs around the office, the more he finds himself pushed into the Noah role. He grows a beard he can’t shave away, and he can’t resist putting on the prophet’s robe that God has given him.

The more serious Steve Oedekerk’s script becomes, the more uneasy the mixture of comedy and religiosity feels. Some episodes are pure slapstick, while others suggest the staging of a Cecil B. DeMille epic, complete with Evan raising high his staff as yet another miracle is performed. Oddly anachronistic, John Debney’s music suggests “The Ten Commandments” rather than a DeMille parody. Carell often seems uncertain about how to take the character he’s playing, and no wonder.

“If he gets any crazier,” says one of Evan’s assistants, “he may end up in the White House.” That’s about it for political content, though the language in some scenes suggests global-warming arguments, and there’s some sniping at conservatives who prize business over regulations. Jon Stewart appears as himself, poking fun at Evan’s story as “Evan Can Wait,” but his scene lacks a punchline.

Lauren Graham struggles with the colorless role of Evan’s wife, Joan, who puts up with nearly everything her husband throws at her. Their children are non-entities, and Evan’s staff is almost as bland. The one exception is a stalker-like Evan enthusiast (Jonah Hill) who is always threatening to go too far to serve his boss. As long as he’s on the loose, the office scenes have some punch.

“Evan Almighty” can’t help recalling an ancient Bill Cosby routine updating Noah, as well as such Noah-inspired movies as “Field of Dreams” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” But it lacks Cosby’s wit and the unforced empathy that “Field” and “Encounters” brought to their tales of faith. It’s impossible to guess what its creators believe.