There isn’t one single surprise in this movie, at least not for anyone who has seen the trailer, except perhaps for its sweetness. Yes, this is another movie about a family that is brought together by an unusual adventure and a dream. What separates it from the interchangeable RV and Deck the Halls multiplex fodder is that somewhere amid all the poop jokes and Davey and Goliath-level piety there is a little glimmer of sincerity.
It us less of a sequel than a spin-off from Bruce Almighty. In that film, God (Morgan Freeman) loaned his powers to a television news correspondent (Jim Carrey), who celebrated by using them to find a great parking space, see a woman’s panties, part the red…soup, and give his girlfriend a bigger chest. He also inflicted a fury of tics and grimaces on his biggest competitor, Evan, a breakout performance by then-newcomer Steve Carell.
Now Evan takes center stage. He has just been elected to Congress, so he packs up his family in his shiny SUV and drives to Washington, all ready to deliver on his campaign promise to “change the world.”
But as they say, when people make plans, God laughs. This time, God (Freeman again) shows up and tells Evan it is time to build an ark. He presents him with a copy of Ark Building for Dummies and a pile of planks from Go-4-wood (gopher wood, get it?). And everywhere he goes he sees Gen 6:14, the Biblical reference to God’s direction to Noah to build an ark.
This is not what Evan had in mind. He is a very meticulous guy who does not like anything messy, uncontrolled, or out of place. He merrily opts for the old growth Brazilian cherry wood for his kitchen and won’t even think of allowing anything so unsanitary as a dog into the house. Evan cares very much what others think of him And he commits Hollywood’s favorite shorthand sin requiring redemption — he lets down his kids by canceling a planned outing.
He uses that time to read through some legislation he has been asked to co-sponsor by big-time power broker and neighbor in the McMansion community, Congressman Long. We know Long is a bad guy because he has the same last name as Huey Long, because he moves Evan into a fancy new office he does not deserve, and because he is played by John Goodman, whose very eye twinkles glitter with corruption.
Evan tries to get along, but it is increasingly more difficult as two of every species begin following him around and his beard becomes first unshaveable and then snowy white. Is he crazy or is that that ark going to come in mighty handy?
The warm likeability and atomic-clock comic timing of Carell, Lauren Graham (television’s Gilmore Girls) as his wife, and Wanda Sykes as his Congressional aide keep it mildly entertaining and its brief running time ensures that it ends before wearing out its welcome. But it is theologically shaky and logically even shakier. Is Evan building the ark out of respect for God’s direction or because God forecloses every other option? Who is feeding and who is cleaning up after all those animals? The ending tries to have it not just both ways, but about four or five different ways. And, speaking of miracles, how did that house go from being under construction to being complete and fully furnished in a matter of hours without a single moving van?
Parents should know that this movie has some crude potty humor, implied comic nudity, and an in-joke reference to Carell’s recent film The 40 Year Old Virgin. There is brief mild language. There is also some peril and mild fanciful violence — no one hurt. Some of the themes (political corruption, family stress, portrayal of God) may be disturbing to some audience members.
Families who see this movie should talk about what Evan meant when he said he wanted to change the world and what God meant when he said “Whatever I do, I do because I love you.” They should read one or more of the Biblical versions of the Noah story. And of course they should all try a little dance.