Evan Almighty, the sequel to the successful comedy Bruce Almighty and possibly the most expensive comedy every produced, was released into theaters Friday.
The story is a modern retelling of the biblical tale of Noah, in which God has His faithful servant build an ark to escape a flood that would eliminate all of humanity.
For this revamped version, critics, both Christian and secular, are giving mixed film reviews. Most faith-based organizations, however, are giving the thumbs up to go see it based on its clean content.
"Where Bruce Almighty was a PG-13 adult comedy with an occasionally dark or vulgar edge, Evan Almighty is an unabashedly wholesome family movie," wrote Carolyn Arends in a review on Christianity Today. "Thematically, the film is a bulls-eye for family viewing, and I am quite certain my kids, ages 8 and 5, are going to love it."
Evan Almighty, which is rumored to have cost $200 million to create, follows the tale of Evan Baxter, former arch rival to Jim Carey (Bruce)'s character in the first movie, who has just left the news industry and is headed to Washington as a newly-elected Congressman.
He receives an unexpected mandate as he is praying one day, however, from "God" (Morgan Freeman) who tells him to build an ark of biblical proportions.
"The flood's coming and I want you, Evan Baxter, to build an ark," explains "God" in the freshly released film.
Evan must then go about taking on the monumental feat while at the same time convincing his family and new employment that he is not crazy.
Several reviewers have criticized the film in that they say the jokes are too cliché and there is not much originality. They also argue that the spiritual and societal messages are too simplistic.
"Evan Almighty combines the easiest elements of lazy comedy with the most indulgent elements of lazy disaster movies," reviewed Chris Vognar of the Dallas Morning News. "Even Mr. Carell, gamely mugging and wincing and snaring the random reflex laugh, gets pulled down with the ship."
Yet, others, mostly Christian, are praising it for its strong moral themes.
Among some of the more notable things that the film does, it allows the audience to witness the personal changes that the lead character goes through, encourages viewers to do small acts of kindness in their lives, mixes environmentalism and the idea of Christians becoming stewards of the earth, and illustrates the positive role that politicians can have and at the same time their limits without the overall providence from God.
"In addition to the film's reverence for God and its positive biblical references, audiences are challenged to reorder their priorities, strengthen family ties and take greater social responsibility," expressed Bob Smithouser on Focus on the Family's Plugged In Online.
"Even viewers a little uncomfortable with the idea of an anthropomorphized God popping in and out of scenes like Barbara Eden in I Dream of Jeannie will find that this film minds its manners, spiritually speaking," he added. "Humorous biblical references manage to avoid irreverence, while serious moments feel more poignant than preachy."
Some ministry heads, however, have shown an overall dissatisfaction with the movie in the way some biblical themes are handled. They argue that the portrayal of God as more human-like takes away from His holiness and the scriptural story of Noah has been misinterpreted.
"As for whether my readers and their sons and daughters should see this film, that decision depends on their individual interpretations and beliefs," explained James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, after seeing the film. "From my perspective, it is a shame that the movie is flawed in ways that could have so easily been avoided. Nevertheless, I appreciate the fact that the producers and writers did not include the gratuitous sex and violence that punctuates so many other summer offerings. Evan Almighty could have been a perennial favorite.