Thereís a streak of piety afoot in Hollywood these days, and like so much of what that miserable town shits forth, having it both ways is the only way to go. In the same breath that curses conspicuous consumption and crass materialism, a romance with glitter and glamour abounds, as if weíd fail to notice that sadness and redemption were best packaged in an attractive physical specimen. Even when the message is one of enslavement to the family ideal (where marriage and children are the only signs of maturity), the baying crowds are not denied their unending toilet humor. And so we have Evan Almighty, Hollywoodís latest effort to cash in on the next Great Awakening, though not without extending the olive branch to those not likely to respond to an excess of holy rolling. Here, God is humorous, wise, and tender, much like a grandfather or favorite uncle. Whatís more, heís a black man with bad teeth, so thereís nothing about him that canít allow well-to-do white suburbanites to feel a sense of superiority if the need arises. This isnít the deity of legend, complete with bloody smiting, wrath-filled rages, and the butchering of firstborn sons. No, this is God relaxing over a long weekend; wearing his vacation whites with a twinkle in his everlasting eye, never resorting to cruel judgment or hellish damnation. Itís the God affluent liberals always wanted for their very own, but never had the courage to admit, though now they have the backing of billion-dollar studios to make it so. Itís as if all those years of rest, therapy, and New Age self-indulgence finally produced something other than throat-closing bills.
Tom Shadyac, the lout also responsible for Bruce Almighty and Patch Adams, once again takes the helm of an effort designed to lecture us poor saps with pleas for love and understanding, all while having the sort of money that requires the likes of him to do neither. Itís typical of the armchair progressive to observe our collective shortcomings while never bothering to investigate his own, and only in his narrow universe would a lush valley in Virginia be more important than the whole of Africa, Iím guessing because he once witnessed a beloved picnic area lose its charm to overdevelopment. Luckily, Shadyacís God is right on board, and instead of, say, rescuing millions from unspeakable death, famine, and disease, heís pestering a freshman Congressman named Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) to build an ark, save his neighbors, kill a nasty anti-environmental bill, and return a patch of earth to its pristine state, all while being forced to grow out his hair and beard to look like the Noah of the Old Testament. Such things might be deemed a cruel trick, but yes, the Lord has his reasons, for how else to test the faith of Evanís friends and family? Theyíll think heís crazy, of course, but by the end, when all has worked out according to plan, everyone will smile, embrace, and fully understand Godís clever wisdom. Sure, the designer of the universe could simply repair the faulty dam that later causes the flood, but that would be too easy. He must inspire his children to do it themselves! A shame indeed that he couldnít inspire anyone to blast the rail lines leading into Auschwitz.
When the movie isnít pounding home the dubious message that God is one wacky dude with a comicís sense of timing, it wallows in poop jokes and Carellís shameless mugging, which, for the first time, is utterly intolerable. Carell screams, runs away from CGI animals, yelps, and smirks, all without being bothered to create a living, breathing character. How might a man react to hearing and seeing God in the flesh? Apparently, after a minute or two of bug-eyed incredulity, itís business as usual, as apparently modern man is just dumb enough to accept schizophrenia as anything other than a medical condition. Baxterís Washington is even less credible, however, and itís clear that that the screenwriter hasnít revisited the place since Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Itís still awash in naivetť and melodramatic meanies, apparently, which means that weíre treated to Congressman Long (John Goodman), a character so shaded and complex that, why, he hates furry animals! And heís greedy enough to cut corners and construct faulty dams! Long immediately takes Baxter under his wing, of course, giving him a plush office, key committee assignments, and special perks, all for simply co-signing a bill that will open up the National Parks to the bulldozers. Itís a reasonable sentiment, to be sure, though its greener-than-thou attitude might scare off a few conservatives.†Still, it is†telling that this righteous cause ends at our border, which makes one wonder how God really feels about the Amazon rainforest. Last I checked, no arks were being built in the Brazilian jungle.
Did I mention that ďarkĒ actually stands for ďacts of random kindness”? So now you know who to blame for those insufferable bumper stickers. So all this — all the war, pain, and billions of years of evolutionary development — was so that in the end, weíd be a little nicer to our fellow man? At least the right-wing fanatics divide us up into good and evil and envision an eternity of mining carts, pitchforks, and unimaginable torment. In the end, avoiding such a fate seems eminently more acceptable as a reason to believe than something akin to Hands Across America. But the liberals canít stop there, after all. Not only is building big houses on sacred land a crime against God, but you must never let work get in the way of family. Take Evanís snotty sons: The fuckers are bitching about a canceled family hike after Dadís first day at the office, solely because he has the audacity to suggest that he has to read the very bill he is being asked to sponsor. Sure, I can understand the impulse to get fathers more involved, but at the expense of hearth and home? You see this nice house, lovely vehicle, and endless supply or trinkets and toys? As much as Iíd like to pay for them with kisses and Chutes & Ladders winnings, I have a place I need to go during the day where children arenít allowed. And the film is more than dead serious on the matter; if you work so much that you arenít bathing the wee ones, or strapping on a bike helmet, or playing catch every single fucking day, youíre not only a shitty parent, but youíre just as likely to get a visit from God, who will proceed to wag his finger in your face, despite not offering a single solution as to how one can take 4-5 days off a week and still maintain a $3,500 a month mortgage. I assume God would ask that you scale down and pay less per month (thereby being allowed to earn less), but once again, this is household accounting that ignores the daily lives of tens of millions of working-class Americans. In fact, it ignores everyone but Mr. Shadyac and his gated community of golf buddies.
The movie proceeds much as you would expect — the doubt, the acceptance, the missions, and the fulfillment — all with the expected ďhammering montagesĒ set to the annoying pop tunes of the day. Of course, Evan enlists his boys to help, only to lose them (his wife takes them — where else? — but to her motherís house), and later get them back as, to a boy, they now prefer the crazy new dad to the workaholic who busted his ass but didnít bathe them with attention. Even Evanís†spouse (Lauren Graham), still the hottest housewife east of the Mississippi, eventually signs on, as her role, other than painting on the worldís tightest jeans, exists only to look like sheís been hit in the face with a 2×4 at least twice. She asks questions, expresses shock, gets fed up, then leaves. Thatís the sum total of her character until she returns for the final construction, which just happens to have the aid of the animals themselves. So if youíve always wanted to see a monkey drinking lemonade, or a giraffe bringing Steve Carell a hammer, youíll have no less than 15 separate scenes to indulge your desires. Needless to say, the community also hates Evan, but turn around on a dime after the dam conveniently explodes mere seconds before the wrecking ball takes out the ark. That final ride, as underwhelming and obviously fake as it is, contains some unintentional hilarity, as we cannot forget that as most of the valley floor had not been warned of the imminent flood, hundreds perished in its wake. And yet, because the ark rides the waves to the very door of Congress (thereby convincing the reluctant lawmakers that he wasnít crazy after all), we are meant to laugh and smile and wipe away our tears. Never mind that much of eastern Virginia will be awash in funerals for the next several months. God has saved Evanís hiking trails!
As tempting as it is to dismiss the likes of Evan Almighty with a shrug, it is far more dangerous, even, than something like Mel Gibsonís backyard barbecue of a Christ vision. Few people give a fuck about blood atonement, and even faithful churchgoers are unwilling to see their Holy Book as anything other than a more poetic Dale Carnegie tome, but in corners all across this country, they live by a plastic, ever-smiling Jesus and his sweet-tempered father. Religion, faith, God, prayer — all are fixed parts of their daily lives, but they have all the heft of a fortune cookie or daily horoscope. As such, they pray (much like the Baxter family in the movie) for things and desires, and it rarely goes beyond the narcissistic impulse that believes God has nothing better to do than ensure that you get off work early next week to see little Timmy strike out for the 98th consecutive time. God is, for these allegedly educated creeps, a guru or a father figure; a vending machine for the trials and tribulations that define modern life. They seek divine guidance, then, for the same reasons as our hero Evan: to be better people, and hopefully find our purpose in this world. Itís so soft and warm and gooey to the touch, and wholly unacceptable in a civilized society. And yet Hollywood will never cease in its quest. They want to take God back from the Baptists and the charismatics, and the fear-mongering savages they so rightfully disdain. But their version is simply a more comforting lie, and Iíd much prefer the whole God thing straight, no chaser. If youíre going to make shit up to control people, letís go full-tilt. Save the sap for your kids.