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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)--"Make Thee An Ark." So instructs the Lord God in Genesis 6:14. Though I'm sure the Lord Jehovah performed daily miracles, can you imagine the Herculean task Noah had to undertake once he began building that boat? In the "Bruce Almighty" sequel, "Evan Almighty," which opens Friday, the new Noah quickly learns that we shouldn't ask God to help us change the world unless we're willing to take on the mission.
It's a movie and is meant to entertain -- not instruct, proselytize, or signal the end is near. Indeed, according to star Steve Carell, "Evan Almighty is simply meant to be funny." But one of director Tom Shadyac's strengths as a comic filmmaker ("Bruce Almighty," "Liar, Liar") is that he realizes the best way to ridicule man's folly is by setting man's goals alongside biblical principles and principals.
Carell reprises his role of newscaster Evan Baxter, but now the self-involved news anchor has become a freshman congressman and moved his family to suburban Virginia. Having lived a selfish life where he expresses who he is through possessions and position, Evan suddenly realizes that there is more to life than his little world. It dawns on him that he should seek the Almighty in order to help him change the world. But once that prayer is uttered, Evan's life rapidly changes.
Like Bill Cosby's classic 1960s Noah routine, Evan wonders, "Who is this really?" When it becomes evident, however, that he really is being instructed by the Creator of the universe, Evan's spiritual nature begins to develop. And during times of crises (being ridiculed by the community, facing unemployment, the wife taking the kids back to Mom's), Evan's faith braces him for the job of changing the world through the ARK (Acts of Random Kindness). With the help of his three sons and armed with a first edition "Ark Building for Dummies," Evan sets out to follow God's commands.
During a recent roundtable interview with the stars and filmmakers of "Evan Almighty," a reporter asked each participant, "If we could speak to God today, what do you think He'd warn us?" Most of the artists either met the question with humor or stunned silence, as if the prospect was unfathomable. But Shadyac, a fellow Believer, was thoughtful, and said, "I think He'd say, 'I've already warned you.' It's been said. We just need to listen to what's been said. And we need to incorporate and act on what's been shown us through the lives of others and through the written Word."
Shadyac attended UCLA film school, worked toward his master's degree, and at age 23, became the youngest staff joke writer for Bob Hope. With an extensive list of producing, writing and directing credits, he is cognizant of Hollywood's devotion to finding projects that will garner the most ticket sales. "The studios are aware that the faith-based audience exists," he said. "Because of The Passion of the Christ, they have evidence that there are people out there who will come to the movies in droves if they feel a kindred spirit with the themes and tones of a movie."
Though the film doesn't sermonize, it does address the need to care for our planet and the need to love one another. And faith. Evan Almighty makes it clear that faith is important, even inescapable. Like Noah, Evan is mocked by the community for his conviction. But when their scoffing turns to fear at the sight of imminent doom, Evan reaches out with forgiveness and a way of salvation. It is his faith put into loving action.
Ah, but you're asking, "Didn't God say He'd never flood the entire Earth again?" Mustn't give anything away, here, but the theologian will be satisfied with the film's take on the biblical story.
This is the kind of film the Christian community looks for –- clean, filled with positive messages and entertaining for every age group. It also has steered clear of the sexual innuendo found in "Bruce Almighty." However, "Evan Almighty" contains its fair share of potty humor. Unlike films geared to the sensibilities of the sophomoric adolescent, however, here this comic, um, release, is used skillfully. You see, this is a movie filled with animals, and animals, especially birds, are not inhibited by bodily functions. Therefore, the filmmakers make use of animals, especially birds, to occasionally mock man's pomposity. It's still not in the best of taste, but it actually makes an amusing statement.
When questioned about the use of bird-dropping humor, Shadyac responded, "And religion ought to be separate from that? God designed the body. There's a lot of ways He could go with the whole elimination thing. But He designed the function in this miraculous, marvelous, funny, serious, dramatic way. And so the fact that I at my best can return to child likeness only speaks to spirituality, not against it.
"That said," Shadyac concluded, "I want to respect parents and what kids are hearing. I've tried to do so with Evan Almighty."
Phil Boatwright is celebrating his 20th year as a film reviewer. He is the film reviewer for previewonline.org.