The Animals Went In Two by Two (Evan Almighty, 2007)

imageBruce Almighty was a hit, and the studio wanted a  sequel.  The most admirable thing Tom Shadyac and his crew did?  They avoided doing a total retread.  They told Bruce’s story, and they did not want to just make a total formula sequel.

In some ways, this film owes more to the Oh God Franchise than the first film.  This one has a focus set on Evan getting a mission from God.  And it borrows heavily from movies like the Santa Clause.  Evan does not just get a Noah-like mission, he grows instant beards.  Animals flock to him. He has to build a really big boat.

Carrell was a standout performer by then, and they opted to follow Evan Baxter and his family.  While Freeman is back in the Mercy Seat, the film’s option to look at how the personal can impact the bigger picture never quite comes together as effectively as the first film.

In addition, the original story of Noah is one of judgement and punishment on a grand scale.  But while I appreciate the environmental conservation message the film tries to convey, Evan is not trying to stop an immediate extinction level threat, and the stakes that should be there simply are not.  By being a bit more bigger picture, the film fails to hold up as effectively as the previous film which stayed local and personal.

Hail to the King (Bruce Almighty, 2003)

imageAfter lukewarm receptions to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Carrey went back to where his bigger successes occured.  High concept comedies.  And you do not get more high concept than Bruce Almighty.

A couple decades after the Oh God series, we see George Burns replaced by Morgan Freeman in the role of God.  Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a sad sack who does not appreciate what he has, rather wanting more, believing he will be happy once he achieves his goals.  And his biggest goal?  To try and move from doing puff pieces for the local news station to the anchor desk.  He tries to be positive, but is dealt a crushing blow when the job goes to his rival Evan Baxter (Steve Carrell).

Angry and at the end of his rope, he ends up getting a meeting with God.  God is not really impressed with Bruce’s complaints and makes him a deal.  Bruce has the omnipotent power of God for a week.  Bruce agrees, and initially relishes the power.

This is a fairly entertaining bit, as we see Bruce experiment with what he can do.  And at first it seems awesome…until he starts discovering some of the drawbacks…like hearing everyone’s prayers.  Bruce starts to find things getting harder, and he is chasing away his girlfriend Grace, who is tired of Bruce being so focused on himself and his unwillingness to see what he has as enough.  Bruce tries to use his powers to fix his personal problem, and quickly tries to find shortcuts for the responsibility stuff (like prayers from people).  Of course, it ends up only being made worse.

Even with the powers of a supreme being, Bruce’s life is more messed up than ever.  Bruce hits bottom, even though he can move the moon.

And this is where the film works so well.  It is very focused, with a very simple point.  Don’t be a self centered jerk.  Bruce begins to look outside himself…he starts to help people in regular human ways.  Rather than worrying about what is just out of his grasp, Bruce focuses on what is right there in front of him.

Freeman makes a pretty nice avatar for God.  He is kind, gentle, loving and patient.  He is not there to accuse Bruce, he is there to open Bruce’s eyes.  Like Oh God before it, Bruce Almighty’s God does try and tackle some of the tough questions about existence.  They do it best when they keep it simple.

While you can predict the happy ending on it’s way, the film manages to earn it’s happy ending.  It does not cheat.  Bruce does not have to just say he is sorry and everything is awesome.  No, he has to work to get there.  He has to give up dreams and find a new path.

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