Yoking the Godly to the goofy, the Almighty movies – first Bruce, now Evan Almighty – are the Old and New Testament of high-concept comedies. Consider: in 2003’s Bruce, Jim Carrey’s omnipotent telly reporter learned the hard way that gross ambition and ignoring the important people in your life can land you in deep doo-doo. Although it’s a re-jigging of the Noah story (from the Book of Genesis, Sunday School slackers), Evan’s rooted in the gentler, more Jesus-centric idea that Acts of Random Kindness (note the acronym) are what make the world go round.
It’s a lesson brought home to newly elected congressman Evan Baxter (Steve Carell, shunted from Bruce’s margins to centre stage). Bristling with hubris, he’s lowered a peg or three when The Man Upstairs (Morgan Freeman) hands him a holy mission: build an Ark. Naturally, Evan thinks he’s dealing with a mentalist until the comic side-effects kick in: animals follow him everywhere, a forest’s worth of wood is delivered to his door and the neat freak becomes hairier than Robin Williams necking pints of Rogaine. So what to do?
Given that this is a kitten-soft, factory-fluffed message movie, Evan’s actions are never in doubt. The biggest mystery here is why Carell signed on. After all, Carrey used Bruce to give his waning star a polish (ironic that the sequel-phobic star bailed on returning even though he’s slipped back to career crisis). But Carell, hot off The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Little Miss Sunshine, hardly needs a similar punt up the status ladder.
And he seems to know it, barely straining his sturdy improv muscles. Evan tones down Bruce’s madcap physicality to suit Carell’s subtler style, but then forgets to be anything more than gently entertaining. Flanked by Freeman’s easy charm and a wisecracking Wanda Sykes (as Evan’s secretary Rita), the star manages to raise this out of the doldrums. But it’s hardly what you’d call a divine blessing.
Often mainlining its message at the expense of laughs, this is unassuming fare that just about holds the line between floating and sinking. Carell's a solid centre, but someone needs to tell him he's better than this.