Is Evan Almighty the next Passion?

Evan AlmightyHorror of all horrors, Hollywood is seeking to make more movies that appeal to Christians, and it might even try to market the films to those audiences. The latest is yet another sequel from Hollywood that has Steve Carell of The Office playing a political guy who quits his career so that he can build an ark (like Noah). While every movie with a Christian theme these days will be compared to Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ, one wonders if this one was originally conceived with the pew dollar in mind.

What's interesting about this attempt is that while the movie's predecessor, Bruce Almighty (2003), was rather irreverent and rated PG-13, this one received a PG rating and is targeted to the 43 percent of the country that is in church, according to what Jonathan Bock, president of Grace Hill Media, told The New York Times.

The Times adds:

By comparison, "Evan Almighty" seems an unlikely candidate for this kind of marketing. Unlike "The Passion of the Christ," it is a comedy that portrays God in the flesh (played again by Morgan Freeman, wearing a natty white suit). "Bruce Almighty," which made more than $240 million at the box office in the United States, was better known for irreverent humor and Mr. Carrey's mugging than for any underlying religious message.

Universal may have reasons enough to look for divine help. The budget of "Evan Almighty," a movie full of elaborate special effects, has been estimated above $175 million, although the studio will not confirm that figure.

According to Adam Fogelson, the president of marketing for Universal, the studio has had many conversations about appealing to the faithful ever since Mr. Gibson's blockbuster.

"I don't believe there is a way -- or maybe I'm just not sophisticated or smart enough to know what that way is -- to use traditional marketing tactics or tricks to convince the faith audience the film is appropriate for them," he said. "This film is not about cutting trailers and TV spots and radio spots to skew a piece of material to make it seem like a good movie for this crowd." He declined to say how much Universal had spent appealing to religious groups.

There seems to be some level of skepticism by the Times on whether this movie will appeal to believers. And it's good to know that at least the studio executives recognize that evangelicals are not "largely poor, uneducated, and easy to command," as some media outfits would have us believe.

In fact, nothing presented here makes me think this is anything but another irreverent film with a funny guy (fans of The Office are likely to see the movie for that reason alone) playing next to Morgan Freeman as God. If Evan Almighty lacks religious themes that would keep church leaders from mentioning the film in their Sunday sermons, then reporters should say so. But they would have to ask first.

Despite the distributor's launching a cheesy website, hiring a public relations firm and taking out a fake-cover ad or "outsert" with Christianity Today, I need to know more about the film's content before believing that Carell is starring in the next Passion of the Christ or Chronicles of Narnia.

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