Bruce Almighty
directed by Tom Shadyac
(Universal, 2003)

Evan Almighty
directed by Tom Shadyac
(Universal, 2007)

In Bruce Almighty, Bruce (Jim Carrey) is temporarily given the powers of God (Morgan Freeman) in order to earn a revelation through his own trials and errors.

In the sequel, Evan Almighty, Evan (Steve Carell) is given an order from God (still Freeman) to build an ark.

Let's look at these two movies for a moment.

Bruce Nolan is a down-on-his-luck newsman for a Buffalo, N.Y., TV station. He's not a very likable guy, and he believes his life to be much worse than it really is -- sure, he lost the big anchorman job he wanted, but he is living with Jennifer Aniston (as Grace Connelly) after all. The rest of the stuff is pretty minor. But Bruce takes it all out on God, angrily demanding that He fix all the problems in his life.

Well, God does him one better ... and makes Bruce God.

Sure, Bruce has dominion only over the greater Buffalo area, but he's got a pretty hefty arsenal of god-like powers. I don't know if he could have created worlds (he doesn't try), but he can haul the moon in for a great romantic view, transform his car into a much sweeter ride, part the red soup (a great scene, accented with music from The Ten Commandments soundtrack), give his girlfriend "pleasure" from another room and boost her cup size, walk on water and teach his dog to use the toilet. He can also beef up his news career, providing himself with amazing exclusives (such as the discovery of Jimmy Hoffa's body). He does answer prayers, but mostly just with a broad "yes" that shows no thought to the consequences.

The movie is a showcase for Carrey's trademark brand of over-the-top humor, and it works well here considering he's a little drunk with supreme power. His scenes with Aniston are touching, his scenes with Freeman are nothing short of astounding; you can believe Freeman is God. And Carrey's Bruce genuinely transforms by the end.

The sequel is good -- it stands alone, similar to Bruce only in its general theme, and both Freeman and Carell knock their performances out of the park. The problem here is the manner in which this particular lesson is taught.

Evan Baxter, who guest-starred in Bruce as Bruce's nemesis on the news team, is now a newly elected Congressman en route to his new digs in Washington, D.C. Just when things seem to be getting off to a good start, God appears and orders Evan to build an ark. In the suburbs. The old-fashioned way.

Far be it for me to question God's wisdom -- or even Freeman's, for that matter -- but Bruce has to make choices. He learns how to use his power only after he abuses it. Carell gets no options here, however, so one wonders how valuable the lesson really is. God delivers the wood, the tools, the instruction manual and, yes, even the animals to Evan's doorstep in a fancy northern Virginia neighborhood. When Evan tries to go about his normal schedule as a freshman Congressman, God swarms him with birds and even changes his wardrobe on the House floor. Heck, Evan can't even shave without God replanting a big, Old Testament-style beard on Evan's chin.

So really, Evan doesn't build an ark because he comes to believe in God's plan. He builds an ark because God gives him no choice.

The denouement is sadly predictable. After all, we know God isn't really going to flood the world; he promised not to do that again, remember? Then again, given the scope of this particular flood, one wonders why animals from the African savannah were needed on Evan's ark.

The script and story here just aren't as strong. Ultimately, though, it doesn't really matter. If you can believe that God would command the junior Congressman from New York to build an ark, then you can obviously overlook the other problems with this movie. It's still funny, and it's worth watching solely for Carell's and Freeman's dead-on performances.

Watch Bruce first, then give Evan a chance. You'll enjoy both -- but chances are good you might watch Bruce a second time.

review by
Tom Knapp

17 October 2009

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