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The real reason 'Evan Almighty' tanked

Times Staff Writer

There've been lots of theories on what went wrong with "Evan Almighty," Universal's expensive summer tent pole that wasn't.

The film cost $250 million to produce and market and has made only $67.9 million (almost two weeks after it was released).

"Bruce Almighty," on the other hand, was a tremendous success, with a $68-million opening weekend in 2003 and a $242-million gross overall. Both films had the same writer (Steve Oedekerk) and director (Tom Shadyac), so how, wondered your trusty box office gurus, could the sequel flop so grandly?

Some blamed the overtly religious theme that permeated "Evan" and did not permeate "Bruce." Others claimed that "Bruce" was edgier and that "Evan" played it so safe it was boring.

But they missed the obvious. The major difference between these two movies is the difference in the two leading men's star power. Jim Carrey is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. Steve Carell, while incredibly funny, talented and beloved by critics, is not.

By 2003, Carrey was a household name, having starred in the "Ace Ventura" franchise, commanding $20 million for "The Cable Guy." (Even though that movie flopped, Carrey was unscathed.) He had huge financial success with "Liar Liar" ($181 million) and had starred as a villain in the "Batman" franchise, among other high-profile roles.

As for Carell, "Evan Almighty" is the actor's first attempt at opening a movie on marquee name alone. He was a virtual unknown when he got his big break with "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." The movie over-performed based on positive word of mouth, a la "My Big Fat Greek Wedding."

"Virgin" did a respectable $21 million opening weekend in 2004, but stuck around in theaters to eventually earn $109 million. The only other high-profile film project for Carell before "Evan" was his turn in the award-winning "Little Miss Sunshine."

And though his television show "The Office" is critically acclaimed and has solid Nielsen ratings, it's not a blockbuster, like "Friends," for example.

Which reminds me: Carrey's costar in "Bruce" was Jennifer Aniston, at the height of her "Friends" fame.

Carell's costar? Lauren Graham, star of another cult favorite TV show, "The Gilmore Girls."

In other words, no comparison.

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