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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. **

EVENING Michael Cunningham may have co-written the screenplay for Evening (along with original author Susan Minot), but those expecting a replay of the heady pleasures of The Hours (which had been adapted from Cunningham's novel) might find themselves disappointed at the slightness of this latest work. That's not to say that Evening is a turkey, but rather a delicate canary that never really finds its voice. Powered by an ofttimes unwieldy big-name cast, this is one of those dramas that wanders back and forth between two time periods. The earlier passages center on Ann Lord (Claire Danes) and her relationships with two dissimilar men -- a drunken layabout (Hugh Dancy) and a promising doctor (Patrick Wilson) -- while the modern sequences focus on the elderly Ann (Vanessa Redgrave) as she reflects on her life while her daughters (Toni Collette and Natasha Richardson) tend to her needs. Important matters of life, liberty (from suffocating relationships) and the pursuit of happiness are treated in fairly interesting ways, although director Lajos Koltai keeps the pathos on such a low simmer that the melodrama never wallops us as it should. Meryl Streep and Glenn Close appear in small roles -- if this were a TV series, they'd be billed as "special guest stars" -- with Streep nicely underplaying and Close grotesquely overacting. Close's crying fit -- the artificial counterpoint to Angelina Jolie's raw breakdown in A Mighty Heart -- is one of the few moments that tests out the high end of the theater's sound system, but it's an embarrassing bit, as unwelcome as Michael Moore at an Aetna board meeting. **1/2

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. **

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