Jim Carrey's first madcap comedy since 2000's "Me, Myself & Irene," "Bruce Almighty" offers up a novel premise with the potential to be both thought-provoking and richly comedic. Despite a handful of genuinely funny moments that pop up on occasion, director Tom Shadyac (2002's "Dragonfly") and screenwriters Steve Koren (1999's "Superstar"), Mark O'Keefe, and Steve Oedekerk (2002's "Kung Pow: Enter the Fist") flounder all of the promise their story clearly held. There is a difference between sustaining one's disbelief and being faced with a number of giant and clumsy plot holes, and there is also a difference between a smartly written moralistic message and one that jams its sticky sentimentality down the viewer's throat. "Bruce Almighty" falls into the latter categories.
Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is a Buffalo-based Channel 7 newscaster with aspirations of replacing a retiring anchorman. When he does not get the job, however, proceeded by getting beaten up by a group of thugs and, later, wrecking his car, Bruce denounces God's plans. God, in the form of a straight-talking janitor (Morgan Freeman), hears Bruce and decides to hand his powers and duties over to him in an effort to prove how very difficult the job really is. Bruce is overjoyed with his new powers, using them to excel at work and further win the affections of his longtime live-in teacher girlfriend, Grace (Jennifer Aniston). What he doesn't expect is how, by agreeing to everyone else's prayers, he begins a chain reaction that leaves the world in riots and serious turmoil. Nothing, however, that cannot be fixed in time for the cheerful, sellout climax.
In making a motion picture that deals with a regular guy being forced into the position of playing God, there was the ability to not only make something uproariously funny, but also truthful to its own meanings and plot developments. "Bruce Almighty" chucks the meaning in favor of dog urination jokes and a monkey that crawls out of a bad guy's anus. This juvenile, if not altogether disastrous, humor does not jive with the more serious aspirations in the last half-hour. After Bruce answers "yes" to all the prayers of the world--including granting thousands of lottery winners, causing each to only get paid $17--riots begin. But that is apparently the planet's biggest worry, rather than the likely answered prayers that wish for others to die, for example. There is no mention of such praying certainties, an awkwardly overlooked and obvious concept that director Shadyac is only too happy to disregard. It is too bad he didn't also resist the temptation to sermonize to his audiences, which is exactly what happens.
The endless possibilities of what being God means are also mostly wasted. Instead of finding the answers to life's big mysteries, Bruce chooses to part his tomato soup like the Red Sea and pull the moon closer to Earth to impress Grace. When Grace catches him kissing a slutty coworker (Catherine Bell), does he do something to allow her to understand the kiss wasn't mutual, but simply looked that way? No, because then there couldn't be the whole tearful breakup scene, followed by further sincere scenes where he tries to apologize and mend their relationship.
Jim Carrey, a talented actor no matter the genre, is at his comedic best when he is allowed to really let loose. The scene in which Bruce discovers he has been passed over for the anchorman job and experiences an emotional meltdown on air is hilarious, thanks to Carrey's exquisite delivery. Another moment in which he sets out to embarrass his rival newscaster by putting words into his mouth is also a very funny highlight. Unfortunately, Carrey is not perfect, and his yearning to win over audiences with his zany humor is often quite apparent, leading to overacting. It doesn't happen a lot, but his flaws are more glaring than they usually are.
As Grace, Jennifer Aniston has found herself stuck in the obligatory "romantic interest" role--something she proved she was far too adept and talented for in 2002's lovely "The Good Girl." Aniston has a couple memorable moments, and the only dramatic scene in the movie that actually works, but this role is painfully underwritten. The same could be said for Morgan Freeman (2003's "Dreamcatcher"), although he certainly lends an authoritarianism and extra sense of fun to his role of God. "Where am I?" asks Bruce when he suddenly finds himself on top of a snowy mountain. "You're dead," God solemnly replies before adding, "Nah, I'm just messing with you!"
As throwaway comedic fodder worth a few chuckles and some entertainment value, "Bruce Almighty" will suffice just fine, but it could have been so much more. More original. More provocative. More funny. More smart. More courageous. Jim Carrey fans and those searching for nothing but an undemanding time at the movies likely won't seem to mind, and the movie admittedly does have its moments. Based on its wasted potential, something tells me the cinema gods wouldn't be nearly as forgiving.
Copyright © 2003 Dustin Putman