Only in today's Hollywood can a film that grossed $175 million worldwide be considered a flop. But I guess when the film in question is 'Evan Almighty,' which also happened to cost a reported $175 million to produce, a dollar-for-dollar wash just doesn't cut it. So the legacy of poor 'Evan Almighty' is now sadly ironic -- a film that desperately aimed to be a heartwarming, altruistic family comedy about faith, will instead be remembered for wasting obscene amounts of money.
Perhaps it is a case of divine retribution, as 'Evan Almighty' is a film that probably should never have been made in the first place. Seriously, was anyone actually clamoring for a sequel to 2004's 'Bruce Almighty'? Although the original Jim Carrey comedy was a $250 million-grossing blockbuster, somehow it managed to add exactly zero to the sum of pop culture consciousness, and only three years later seems largely forgotten.
But something else happened over the course of those three years. Although Steve Carell had only small (albeit scene-stealing) part in the original film as a rival weatherman to Carrey, after a subsequent string of hits with 'The 40 Year-Old Virgin,' 'Little Miss Sunshine' and TV's 'The Office,' he's now Hollywood's new "It" funnyman -- and the heir apparent to Carrey himself. So in a bizarre passing of the torch, Carell has now been promoted to headliner, picking up where Carrey left off.
Unfortunately for Carell, 'Evan Almighty' is far less fun than 'Bruce,' which wasn't all that great to begin with. Like most sequels, it's less a continuation of the original story than it is a regurgitation -- the same plot, only with a slightly different moral to the story. In the first film, Carrey's Bruce is called upon by God (Morgan Freeman, cashing a paycheck), given a bunch of magic powers, and reclaims his faith after taking stock of his life and his family. In 'Evan Almighty,' Carell has turned into an ambitious politician who, after being called upon by God (Morgan Freeman, cashing an even bigger paycheck), is given magical powers, told to build an ark, and reclaims his faith after taking stock of his life and his family. If this all feels a bit like deja vu, it should.
The big problem with 'Evan Almighty,' even more so than 'Bruce,' is that while it shamelessly panders to the conservative religious demographic, it's seemingly so afraid to offend anyone else that it attempts to jam every well-intentioned belief system known to man into its wafer-thin 96 minutes. As a result, there's no bite, no zing to the humor. (Animal fart jokes? Really?) Even more shamelessly, it rips off almost the entire plot of the aged George Burns comedy 'Oh, God!,' right down to the courtroom climax where Evan's apparently insane behavior will be put on trial, but -- wouldn't ya know it -- blind faith, not reason, proves to be the most sacred law of all. Don't stop the presses.
Even the seemingly unflappable Steve Carell is a disappointment. I've always been a fan, from his early days on "The Daily Show," to his break-out role in '40 Year-Old Virgin,' to his underrated, sublime work in 'Little Miss Sunshine' (heck, I even liked him as the bumbling cop in the forgotten teen flick 'Sleepover'). But here, he finally crosses over the line from being ingratiating to simply being insufferable. I don't know whether he was overwhelmed by all the CGI effects or if he simply ran out of steam, but he flails about, rolls his eyes, and yells every joke in a near-hysterical pitch that smacks of desperation, not invention. I have no doubt Carell's movie career will rebound from 'Evan Almighty,' but here's hoping he makes some better choices in the future.
Whatever its other failings, however, 'Evan Almighty' will always be remembered as the $175 million movie that should have cost half that. Watching the film with that in mind can be dumbfounding -- I just didn't see the money on the screen. Yes, there are a bunch of CGI animals bounding all over the place, but $175 million's worth!? It all feels so wasteful, and unlike other effects-laden comedies like 'Ghostbusters,' all the visual tricks not only aren't funny, but they take the wind of spontaneity out of the whole affair. 'Evan Almighty' is a lumbering, bloated comedy, and ultimately one that has little to say beyond platitudes. You'd be better off just going back and renting 'Bruce Almighty' again instead.
'Evan Almighty' comes to HD DVD in 2.35:1 widescreen, and it's encoded in 1080p/VC-1 video. Unfortunately, I found this transfer far from heavenly. Universal has put out some pretty strong releases of late, but this one's just slightly above-average.
Befitting a new release, the raw elements are in great shape and this as clean a print as you're likely to see. So it's a bummer that the transfer feels a little dark. Black levels are spot on, and contrast can bloom at the high end of the scale (which diminishes fine details). Strangely, though, mid-range feels flattened out, so the transfer both lacks pop and looks too hot. Colors are also not that snappy, lacking that truly crisp, vivid look of the best transfers. Fleshtones are fairly accurate, but have an artificial look. Detail and depth are fair to good, depending on the brightness of the scene. (Luckily, most of 'Evan Almighty' takes place outdoors or in well-lit interiors.) Also distracting is some slight edge enhancement, which results in minor halos, so while the presentation is usually sharp, the image can't overcome a somewhat "digital" feel.
To be fair, 'Evan Almighty' doesn't look bad, and it even impresses on a few rare occasions. Still, overall, this one's hardly a top tier effort from Universal.
I have to say, the way Universal has been approaching audio specs on their HD DVD releases lately has left me puzzled. They've been routinely putting Dolby TrueHD tracks on marginal catalog titles like 'Last Starfighter' and 'For Love of the Game,' only to stick high-profile new releases like 'Knocked Up' and 'Evan Almighty' with plain old Dolby Digital-Plus tracks (albeit at 1.5mbps). It's a particular shame in this case, because 'Evan Almighty' boasts a truly lively soundtrack with lots of surround activity, and it's one that really could have benefited from a little bit of love in the high-resolution audio department.
On the bright side, this Dolby Digital-Plus more than holds its own. Anytime an animal enters the frame (usually a herd of them), the rears really light up. Discrete effects are plentiful and varied, with wonderful imaging and expert localization. Atmosphere is often sustained, giving a real sense of a truly immersive soundfield rather than a stereo mix with a few sound effects directed behind the couch. Dialogue scenes can be quieter, but once the story gets going, there is rarely a dull moment.
All other aspects of the mix are also strong, with a richness and clarity to the frequency spectrum that's typical of a big-budget, would-be Hollywood blockbuster. While this is no 'Jurassic Park,' low bass is also quite pronounced, with the stampeding animals delivering plenty of kick to the subwoofer. Dialogue reproduction is also crystal clear and nicely balanced, which is particularly important in a comedy, where cadence and timing is everything. In short, 'Evan Almighty' is definitely a cut above most soundtracks of its ilk. The only shame here is that Universal didn't pony up to give this one the TrueHD track it truly deserves.
"Evan Almighty' is another one of those discs that looks packed with extras, but in reality is just a big chunk of Velveeta, chopped up into a bunch of little bits to make it appear more impressive. In this case, it's not even good-looking Velveeta: all of the video material is presented in 480p/i/MPEG-2 video only.
In a nice touch, Steve Carell introduces all of the features, which kick off with a series of vignettes.
"The Ark-itects of Noah's Ark" (7 minutes) chronicles the design and construction of the ark, which is probably the film's most interesting effect, while "Animals on Set Two by Two" (13 min.), reveals how all the animals were trained and handled. "Becoming Noah" (6 min.) documents Carell's transformation, which largely involved hair and beard extensions. Having it easier are all the CGI animals, who we learn in "A Flood of Visual Effects" (7 min.) were not really murdered by the film's climactic flood -- they were simply drawn that way. Unintentionally humorous is "The Almighty Green Set" (5 min.), which pats the backs of the filmmakers for going green throughout production. Director Tom Shadyac even went so far as to give all the cast members bikes so they wouldn't waste energy getting around the set, yet there they all were, wasting $175 million on a comedy filled with fake animals.
Next we have a selection of excised footage, which kicks off with eight un-notable Deleted Scenes (15 min.) and 2 minutes worth of surprisingly bland and inoffensive "Outtakes" -- it seems anything adult and/or racy would has no place on a family-friendly disc such as this. Likewise, "Steve Carell Unscripted" is a 3-minute reel of the actor clowning around the set that's far too dull.
The final three "featurettes" are even more superfluous. "It's Easy Being Green" (5 min.) features cast and crew offering tips and suggestions to stay green; "Acts of Random Kindness" (2 min.) is just that, only really annoying and stupid; and finally, "The Almighty Forest" is simply a 6-minute list of names of those who donated $5 a head to plant trees in a tie-in with the film's eco-friendly message.
For whatever reason, the film's theatrical trailer is not included.
'Evan Almighty' is a strange sequel that appears to have been made less to continue the story of the first film, and more to capitalize on the breakout success of its star, Steve Carell. At the end of the day, it's not entirely unlikable, but it's also not particularly funny.
As an HD DVD release, this one's solid but unremarkable. The transfer didn't impress me, and though I enjoyed the sound, it likely could have been even better if had Universal granted this one a high-res audio track. Unusually, the HD DVD exclusives on this disc are probably its strongest asset -- at least they push the envelope from a technical perspective. I can't say this disc is worth buying just for that, but it is probably worth a rent, especially if you happen to be a fan of CGI animals, the 'Oh, God!' movies, or Steve Carell.