NEWS- 'Evan Almighty': The end (of waiting) is near

The ark floats from Crozet to the big screen June 22– but select locals will see it June 14.

A year ago, when star-struck Charlottesville served as the location for Evan Almighty, an ark sprang up in Crozet, Steve Carell and Morgan Freeman walked among us, and locals clamored to be cast as extras in the biggest-budget comedy ever.

Now, prepare yourselves: The premiere is near.

The movie doesn't open until June 22, but Charlottesville will be the scene of a June 14 red carpet screening, says Evan publicist Mike Jesson.

But don't line up for tickets. The event is not open to the public.

Director and UVA alum Tom Shadyac will be in town for the screening, and there will be an open house before and after the screening at his local good-works project, the "First Street Church."

City Councilor Dave Norris, whose day job is working with the homeless at a non-profit called PACEM, already has his ticket to the screening. "It's not a fundraiser; it's an awareness-raiser for the First Street Church and the Crozet library," he explains.

"Tom's a guy with a big heart for the homeless," says Norris. "He has a real passion for helping them and the working poor."

While here last summer, Shadyac, who directed Bruce Almighty, The Nutty Professor and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, attended a Living Wage rally, says Norris. He started asking about the homeless in Charlottesville, and was put in touch with Norris, who told him about COMPASS, an organization trying to find a day shelter for the homeless.

Shadyac purchased the former sanctuary of First Christian Church on Market Street for $2.3 million, and COMPASS will be housed in the basement of the building, which is now being rehabbed.

Good deeds also are part of the marketing campaign for Evan, which is about a Congressman who believes God has instructed him to build an ark. Universal Studios has engaged a media firm whose specialty is drawing evangelicals to the movies, à la Mel Gibson's Passion of Christ.

One strategy of Grace Hill Media, which also promoted Gibson's sacred cash cow, is the website, where those with needs can be matched with those who want to practice random acts of kindness. As of June 1, 5,100 people had signed up on the site.

Evan also is playing the green card. On the movie's website, for $5, visitors can plant virtual trees at the Almighty Forest and get their names on the DVD. So far, nearly 10,000 virtual trees have been planted.

NBC Universal contributed to the Conservation Fund to plant 2,000 trees to offset the film's carbon impact, reports UPI, and donated reusable materials to Habitat for Humanity.

"I know the film is a green film," says publicist Jesson. Posters for Evan are printed on recycled paper using nonpolluting inks, he says.

The good deeds angle may help mitigate what's perhaps a bigger worry for Evan Almighty, which is reported to have cost $175 million or more, the most expensive comedy ever. Will it sink or swim in the heated summer blockbuster pool?

With upcoming releases of Transformers, Harry Potter, Fantastic Four 2, and Live Free or Die Hard, "Face facts, there are simply way too many big, must-see movies being released this summer," says Cinema Blend's Josh Tyler. "At least one of them has to flop, doesn’t it?"

But not necessarily the one with 40-Year-Old Virgin Carell and an ark-load of animals directed by a UVA alum with a track record like Shadyac's.

Dave Norris is ready to walk the red carpet at the Paramount June 14. "I'm told it's more of a green carpet than a red carpet," he says. And for the casual, family-oriented event, "I'm going to wear A&N or Kmart," he says.

Look for long lines at the local cinema June 22.