Evan not so mighty

If there's one thing that kills Steve Carell's new comedy, it's sanctimoniousness.

In "Bruce Almighty," Steve Carell played the newscaster who was chief rival to Jim Carrey's title character. He stole all his scenes, and since then has become something of a one-man cottage industry.

As the star of "Evan Almighty," a spin-off of the earlier movie, Carell appears in practically every scene. Right away he's in trouble, since this champion scene-stealer can't steal scenes from himself.

Director Tom Shadyac, who also made "Bruce Almighty," draws on our fond memories of Carell from that film, but he also includes in-jokes relating to other Carell films. In "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," for example, Carell had his chest waxed, so in this film we see him snipping nostril hairs.

As a freshman congressman now living with his family in northern Virginia, Evan is invited to cosponsor a land development bill by a fat cat politico (John Goodman). Opting for power over time with his family, Evan is soon handed his comeuppance. God, played once again by Morgan Freeman in stylish whites, orders Evan to build an ark to prepare his family and community for a great flood.

Evan figures out he's not crazy but everyone else thinks he is. A flock of birds that would give Hitchcock the willies descends on Evan in his congressional chambers – in one of the film's few amusing set pieces – and leave their calling cards.

Always a stickler for being clean-shaven, Evan's beard grows out uncontrollably. The ark building also takes on a life of its own. Helped by his sons, and with planks and equipment provided by God, Evan fulfills the master plan. God also has provided him with a book: "Ark Building For Dummies." If you think that joke is funny, you will love "Evan Almighty."

For the rest of us, the film is a so-so slog through a torrent of tired jokes. The animals that show up in twos are pretty to look at, even though some of them are computer generated.

Carell is a funny performer when he's in supporting roles, or when he's working off the oddball comic rhythms of his co-stars. But in "Evan Almighty" he is too often portrayed as an Everyman with a flowing white beard, and if there is one thing that kills comedy, it's sanctimoniousness. Grade: C

Rated PG for mild rude humor and some peril.

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