One flop can scare the dickens out of anyone, so with the release this week of Evan Almighty ($29.98; Universal) I have to ask: is Steve Carell a movie star?
First, he's clearly a talented comic. Carell was great on The Daily Show and against all logic the US version of the absolutely brilliant, impossible to duplicate British sitcom The Office has taken on its own life and become very good on its own terms. (Though the hour-long episodes this season are a drag.) And Carell helped create one vehicle for himself that capitalized on his skills remarkably well: The 40 Year Old Virgin is unthinkable without him.
So is Evan Almighty just a misstep? The story of a modern day Noah, it's the sort of bloated comedy that Hollywood made in the Sixties, with the concept of our hero grappling with tons and tons of animals creating such logistical nightmares that niceties like story and character development get left by the wayside.
Indeed, Carell has proven strongest in supporting roles: Brick Tamland in Anchorman: The Legend Of Ron Burgundy, Evan in Bruce Almighty, the depressive gay Proust scholar in Little Miss Sunshine and even the stunt casting of him as Uncle Arthur in the dreadful Bewitched. That's the definition of a supporting actor - someone you love to see come in, do their bit and get off stage. When a supporting actor takes center stage - like Seth Rogen in Knocked Up and perhaps Carell in Evan Almighty - their appeal can wear thin.
But Carell has a lot more chances to prove his leading man mettle. 2008's Get Smart remake seems like ideal casting and obviously in the right comic role he can shine. But how many roles like that are there? (Tell it to Don Knotts - he had a film career in major roles, didn't he?) Carell's real test will be the Peter Hedges comic drama Dan In Real Life, with Juliete Binoche, John Mahoney and Dane Cook. Uh, speaking of guys who don't seem like leading men....
Also out this week: Man Push Cart ($26.98; Koch Lorber), the acclaimed story of a Pakistani rock star turned New York City street vendor; the second and best season of Family Ties ($38.99; Paramount), when the show relaxed and accepted the fact that Michael J. Fox was now the star; the absurdly graphic dark horror-comedy Black Sheep ($24.95; Dimension), the funniest horror film since An American Werewolf in London; Emmanuelle ($19.98; Lions Gate), the erotica classic that launched a thousand sequels but is never quite as naughty as you hope - which is the secret of its success; Geraldine McEwan in another batch of Miss Marple mysteries Agatha Christie's Marple Season 3 ($59.99; Acorn); the documentary The Forgotten Coast ($26.99; Echo Bridge), which follows top surfers to Indonesia and includes the expected jaw-dropping footage; the iconic "old dark house" thriller, 1927's The Cat and the Canary ($24.95; Kino) as well as an all-but-lost British silent thriller A Cottage On Dartmoor ($29.95; Kino) that came out two years later; Ben Kingsley - long removed from his saintly Gandhi aura - playing a drunken assassin in John Dahl's You Kill Me ($19.95; IFC); the droll 12:08 East Of Bucharest ($22.95; Tartan) which proves that everyone is a revolutionary after a dictator has fallen; Meerkat Manor Season One ($24.95; Animal Planet) perfect for the family if you don't mind preparing your kids for the cruel reality of nature; the Film Crew throw tomatoes at goofy B movie The Giant of Marathon ($19.99; Shout) in a spin on the MST3K glory days, with some success; Aardman's Creature Comforts America ($29.95; Sony), the droll British series brought across the pond with less brilliant results but quiet appeal intact; and season two of the delightful series Everybody Hates Chris ($38.99; Paramount).
So what do you think: is Steve Carell a movie star or just a good supporting actor that lucked out with the right role in The 40 Year Old Virgin? Will you see him in Get Smart next year? And are there any other movie stars you don't think quite fit the bill?