This spin-off of Bruce Almighty opens with upwardly mobile Buffalo, N.Y., anchorman Evan Baxter celebrating his election to Congress. Evan packs his wife and three sons into the family Hummer and heads to Capitol Hill—where he meets Congressman Long, a seasoned politician eager to secure Evan’s loyalties to get a bill passed. Evan braces for long hours. But before he can settle into his latest workaholic rut, his wife prays that the family would grow closer together, and he asks God to help him change the world.
God hears them.
Almost immediately, Evan’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ambitions take a major detour. Strange coincidences grab his attention. Loads of lumber mysteriously appear in his front yard. Then he gets a visit from the Creator of the universe who tells him to build an ark. Like Bruce before him, Evan rolls his eyes and ignores the divine directive until a string of embarrassing moments convinces him that God isn’t about to take no for an answer.
In fact, the Almighty imposes a deadline for the project because a flood is coming. So Evan and his sons start hammering and sawing while wild animals migrate to the neighborhood in pairs. Soon the fastidious, image-conscious politician turns into a hairy, robed, Old Testament Dr. Doolittle mocked by a media horde and armed with only a sketchy understanding of God’s plans. Will Evan keep the faith as Noah did? He’d better.
In addition to the film’s reverence for God and its positive biblical references (see “Spiritual Content”), audiences are challenged to reorder their priorities, strengthen family ties and take greater social responsibility. God tells Evan to change the world by committing acts of random kindness (A.R.K.). [That theme has inspired ArkALMIGHTY, a real-world Christian good-deeds campaign in which people with specific needs can connect with others capable of meeting those needs.]
The story’s Washington, D.C., backdrop accomplishes two things: First, we see Evan’s optimistic zeal about using the political system to affect change. But the movie is also realistic enough to suggest that politicians can’t solve all of the world’s problems, partly because of their limitations (compared to a loving, omnipotent God) and because corruption and human agendas can poison the process. Thus, its portrayal of government is both hopeful and cautionary.
The Baxters are loving parents blessed with generally well-adjusted, respectful kids. The fact that the family suffers from Evan’s habitual workaholism (“New house, same old Dad”) exposes the hole left by a father who may mean well but fails to put his family first. After packing up the boys in frustration and leaving Evan to his “stress-induced midlife crisis,” Joan realizes the need to return to her husband’s side. Similarly, his oldest son refuses to abandon him during an intense situation. Despite Evan’s paternal advice that “image is everything,” he learns by story’s end that there are more important ingredients to successfully impacting the world.
[Spoiler Warning] Congressman Long is vilified for shoddy construction standards and lining his pockets at the expense of national parks. Evan demonstrates faith in God’s calling, and even when everyone calls him crazy he keeps warning them of the coming flood with compassion and concern. When the waters arrive, he rushes his detractors into the ark to save them.
Even viewers a little uncomfortable with the idea of an anthropomorphized God popping in and out of scenes like Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie will find that this film minds its manners, spiritually speaking. Morgan Freeman’s God is loving, powerful and totally in charge. Humorous biblical references manage to avoid irreverence, while serious moments feel more poignant than preachy.
This fictional tale shows how the Lord will often guide us through trials rather than supernaturally keep them from happening. It rightly illustrates that God answers prayers in unexpected ways, and that there’s usually a reason for frustration and suffering—or at least a chance to grow in the midst of it. Evan doesn’t have access to a heavenly blueprint with all the details, but God assures him that whatever He commands is motivated by love. It’s simply up to Evan to follow directions and have faith, trusting God for the outcome.
Evan’s spiritual journey begins when Joan says she heard their son praying and suggests that Evan ask God to help him in his quest to change the world. Privately, he hits his knees for an awkward but sincere chat with the Lord, thanking Him for prosperity and requesting that God assist him at making his country and his home better places to live. In the days that follow, everywhere Evan looks—from his alarm clock to his license plate—he sees Genesis 6:14. So he reaches for the family Bible to see what it says.
Unable to keep his beard from growing, Evan looks enough like artistic renderings of Jesus to elicit a Last Supper remark. Elsewhere, God describes His intelligent design of a beautiful valley and, when He frightens Evan by popping up in the back seat of his car, tells the screaming mortal, “Let it out, son. It’s the beginning of wisdom” (a nod to Psalm 111:10 and Proverbs 9:10). Evan’s disbelief that he’s really talking with the Almighty leads God to ask, “Want more proof? I haven’t done the pillar of salt thing in a while.” When Evan explains that taking time to build an ark isn’t exactly flagged on his Day-Timer, God laughs at the notion that anyone’s plans should take precedence over His own. Meanwhile, God never endows Evan with omnipotence (a common criticism of Bruce Almighty), but instead equips him to do the job.
Evan admits to his fellow representatives that God has been talking to him, which elicits the same shocked response he might get for confessing to an axe murder. Director Tom Shadyac doesn’t shy away from giving his hero dogmatic dialogue either, such as when Evan tells the opportunistic Congressman Long, “I’m giving you one last chance to repent.” God explains to Joan that when people pray for patience, courage or a closer family, they want the end result rather than opportunities to develop those virtues and strengthen character.
[Spoiler Warning] A climactic shot shows the ark’s bow penetrating the U.S. Capitol Building—symbolic of God’s authority bursting through and humbling man-made halls of power. Also, during a literal mountaintop experience and communion with God, Evan admits to being foolish and stubborn (“I fought You every step of the way”). He feels as if his world-changing mission was a flop, only to have God remind him of all the things his efforts accomplished.
Not so positive is a line that implies God “lives in” all created things. Also, a scene downplays God’s holiness and righteous judgment. Freeman’s deity explains that the decision to destroy all life on earth in Noah’s day was an act of love, not wrath. Actually, it was both. Genesis 6:5-12 notes that mankind’s wickedness had pushed God to the brink. It angered and grieved Him that evil governed people’s hearts. Being a God of holy character, He dealt with it harshly (just as He would 13 chapters later with Sodom and Gomorrah). The evidence of love and mercy appears in Genesis 6:18—God’s covenant with Noah.
A boy’s encyclopedic knowledge of wildlife includes the fact that a species of duck has a sex organ as long as its body. Evan unknowingly walks out of his front door naked (sensitive areas are obscured by scenery) and is observed by a female mail carrier. A benign sight gag winks at Steve Carell’s star-making turn in Judd Apatow’s raunchy comedy The 40-Year-Old Virgin.
Slapstick humor involves Evan smashing his thumb with a hammer, falling from heights, getting whacked in the head, etc. A flash flood rips through a valley, destroying homes and sending the ark and its inhabitants on a wet, wild, treacherous ride that would make a great Universal Studios theme park attraction.
The term “jackass” is used to describe both an animal and a foolish man. Other relatively mild language includes “butt,” “p‑‑‑ed,” several gasps of “oh my god,” and people being interrupted before completing the phrases “what the …” and “son of a ….”
Several times, people ask Evan if he’s on something, from Fen Phen to Rogaine.
Families turned off by poop jokes should know that birds pelt people with droppings, a dog defecates on Evan’s lawn, and a newsman makes a quip about feces. When an alpaca spits nasty green slime in a man’s face, an onlooker wonders what comes out the other end.
“We always thought it would be fun to make different chapters in a God series rather than just make a straight sequel to Bruce Almighty,” said director Tom Shadyac. “It always felt more fruitful, creatively, to spin off different characters. Steve [Carell] did such an amazing job in [the first film]; everybody remembers his scenes.”
He’s pretty good in this one, too. of all, a PG rating means more people can choose to enjoy his wacky antics. Not since Bill Cosby’s classic “Noah” routine has the account of the great flood inspired such accessibly funny fare. Playful sight gags. Frisky animals. Whether real or CGI creations, the parade of leopards, camels, tigers, crocodiles, baboons and Kodiak bears is quite cool. But the movie also touches the heart with messages about family and religious faith that resonate because they contain an element of truth. Evan Almighty doesn’t pander to a demographic; it’s a labor of love by a filmmaker brimming with passion and religious sensitivity.
Actor John Michael Higgins, who plays Evan’s congressional chief of staff, noted, “Evan Almighty is a wonderful mix of genres, but with any good comedy you need a good story. The biblical telling of Noah’s story is a fantastic one. It’s got everything you want—it’s human, it’s epic and it has a moral. We’re only using a tiny piece of it and have obviously contemporized it. But it retains the heart of it all.” Indeed it does, in part because of lessons learned from the first film.
In the spring of 2003, I flew to Los Angeles for an early look at Jim Carrey in Bruce Almighty. The next morning, writer/director Tom Shadyac entertained questions and comments from myself and other Christian journalists who felt the PG-13 comedy had plenty of redeeming value, but who wondered why it was necessary to include crass humor, profanity, sexual immorality and spiritual ambiguity. Shadyac was polite but defensive, justifying that content as part of the compromise that occurs when making a big-studio popcorn picture.
Well, either he took those comments to heart or he earned enough creative clout from Bruce’s $243 million domestic box-office to make a sequel his way … without having to compromise. Either way, Evan Almighty is a much stronger, morally grounded family film because of it. Granted, the spiritual nuggets here are never quite as potent as the moment when Bruce runs up against free will and empathizes with an all-powerful God unable to make someone love Him. But all things considered, the tradeoff is a lot better.