Rush Hour

Starring Steve Carell and Morgan Freeman. Directed by Tom Shadyac.
Running Time: 95 mins
Rated: Rated G (some scenes may frighten young children)

What if a modern-day Noah had to build an ark? Here is one answer.

I wish I could have liked Evan Almighty more than I did. Not that many audiences will not enjoy it and its positive - even religious - message and comic tone. But, compared with Bruce Almighty, it is far less complex, far less witty, far less funny. Maybe God, as well as writer Steve Oederkerk and director Tom Shadyac has a lot to do with it.

God? Well, at least God as portrayed by Morgan Freeman. He is back again after letting Bruce take over for him while he went on vacation so that Bruce (and the audience) could learn some of the pressures that God is under as well as wondering how we would handle the world were we to find ourselves given the divine task.

Perhaps the thing is that, this time, Evan does not get the chance to play God at all. There is a much more different dynamic operating here, one that those familiar with the stand-out figures of the Old Testament would appreciate. God calls special people for a particular and challenging mission. He doesn't necessarily reach out to help them all that much. The learning is in completing the mission and the effort that it takes.

Last time we saw Steve Carrel's Evan as a vain (and tongue-tangled) television personality. Now he has been elected to the US Congress and has moved with wife and three sons to Virginia. As with all those American movies which challenge oppressive legislation in the Capitol, especially against the environment (from Mr Smith Goes to Washington to Goldie Hawn in Protocol and Legally Blonde 2), the hero has to stand up to a dominating villain. This time it is a literal heavy in the form of John Goodman.

But, God has other ideas for Evan and delivers tools, then wood, to his front door with the request that he build an ark - and even supplies Building an Ark for Dummies. Evan becomes an initially reluctant Noah (with his wife, Joan - of the ark!), bearded, long-haired, with a Hebrew robe. The family are upset but opt to work with Evan (thus reinforcing the message about the family that builds arks together stays together). Media, politicians and public come to mock.

But, birds have come flocking (in twos), then the animals arrive, bigger and bigger (and who also help in the building). When the flood comes, it is a particular flood with an ecological and anti-business exploitation message; and the special effects are quite spectacular.

So, the dynamic is that of the biblical call and mission, with the kindly Morgan Freeman (doubling as a diner busboy Al Mighty) doing a touch of divine bullying. And God does not appear as frequently as we would like.

The screenplay is very American in its style, straightforward, broadly comical rather than hilarious, wearing its religious heart on its sleeve rather than rib-tickling or acting on the funny bone. Other cultures, more reticent in expression, might find it a bit too obvious, a bit too pious and a bit too preachy. It does not mean that one sensibility is better or worse than another - it's just that sensibilities are different in their responses.

Universal Out 20th September

Fr Peter Malone MSC directs the film desk of SIGNIS: the World Association of Catholic Communicators, and is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting

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