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Evan Almighty; Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer; 1408; others



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EVAN ALMIGHTY My parents may have been the ones to plunk down the dough to purchase the classic comedy album Bill Cosby Is a Very Funny Fellow... Right!, but as a child, I think I was the one most responsible for wearing out the vinyl via repeat listens to the famous "Noah" skits included on the record. If there's anything in Evan Almighty, the sort-of sequel to the 2003 Jim Carrey hit Bruce Almighty, that's even half as hilarious as Cosby's routine, I must have had my eyes closed in prayer and missed it. Playing the same part he essayed in Bruce Almighty, that of self-centered TV news anchor Evan Baxter, Steve Carell immediately finds himself neutered by director Tom Shadyac and his passel of writers, as his character has morphed into a typical movie dad who places his own career above the needs of his wife (Lauren Graham) and children. Having been elected to Congress on the platform that he'll "change the world," Evan now finds his hands full delivering on that promise when God (returning Morgan Freeman) appears and instructs him to build an ark. As his hair grows long and his clothing takes a decidedly Old Testament turn, he's deemed a loony by his neighbors and fellow Congressmen, even though all sorts of animals (rendered through hit-and-miss CGI effects) have paired off and wait patiently next to the big boat as it's being built. Asked mainly to pluck nose hairs and evade birds dropping "bombs," Carell is hampered by a script that instantly changes him from preening narcissist to a one-note saint. If I want to see a movie about a warm and cuddly guy with a white beard, I'll just pop Miracle on 34th Street into the DVD player.  **

FANTASTIC FOUR: RISE OF THE SILVER SURFER It remains a mystery how the 2005 superhero yarn Fantastic Four grossed $154 million stateside, considering that most of its special effects were on the level of a 6-year-old floating his plastic boat in the bathtub. But somebody filled theater seats, and as a result, we now get this sequel. The good news is that the effects are a vast improvement over those in the previous installment, particularly the CGI-created Silver Surfer -- while his conceptualization isn't quite as impressive as those of his distant "cousins," the T-1000 in James Cameron's Terminator 2: Judgment Day and the aliens in Cameron's The Abyss, he's still a cool creation to behold, and certainly faithful to his comic book counterpart. Would that the rest of this picture inspired similar admiration. Instead, FF2 suffers from the same ailments that made the original such a drag: ham-fisted direction, stilted dialogue, the fumbling of a classic villain, and Jessica Alba attempting to emote. Returning helmer Tim Story does manage a bit more visual pizzazz this time around, and the script by Don Payne and Mark Frost sets up some mildly interesting conflicts as the FF -- Mr. Fantastic (Ioan Gruffudd), Invisible Woman (Alba), The Thing (Michael Chiklis) and the Human Torch (Chris Evans) -- take on the conflicted Surfer (voiced by Laurence Fishburne) and their old nemesis Dr. Doom (Julian McMahon). McMahon's dull work -- he's about as menacing as the parking valet at a ritzy restaurant -- is just one of several wince-inducing factors in this dud; if ever a film franchise needed to come equipped with a Reboot button, it's this one.  **

1408 The haunted house flick gets downsized for 1408, a fairly effective creepshow in which our protagonist only has to worry about a haunted room. But what a room! Hack writer Mike Enslin (an excellent John Cusack) has built a career penning guide books on supposedly haunted locales across America, even though he doesn't believe for a minute in the supernatural. So when he receives a postcard from the Dolphin Hotel in New York telling him not to enter the establishment's room 1408, he scoffs at the warning but elects to check it out anyway. At first, the spooky proceedings are kept on a low-key simmer, and as long as the movie plays it close to the vest, it works beautifully: The initial meeting between Enslin and hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) is suitably tart (indeed, the movie could have used a lot more of Mr. Jackson), and director Mikael Hafstrom, rebounding from the godawful Jennifer Aniston thriller Derailed, milks a lot of tension out of Enslin's slow-burn realization that this might indeed be, as Olin put it, "an evil fucking room." But scripters Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski don't just adapt Stephen King's short story; they stick a helium tank needle into it and expand it to grotesque proportions. The small-scale shudders eventually give way to special effects blowouts, while the movie ends up with so many plot tentacles that some are either underdeveloped (Enslin's relationship with his dad) or forgotten completely (who exactly sent the postcard?). Still, let's not complain too much: As far as recent King adaptations go, 1408 runs the numbers better than most.  **1/2


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