NOW PLAYING: Bruce Almighty

Posted: Tuesday, May 27, 2003

There is one deliriously funny scene in Jim Carrey's latest effort at career revival that makes us remember the heady days of Ace Ventura and Dumb and Dumber. Jim's Bruce, a frustrated features reporter for the six o'clock news who has recently been rendered omnipotent, decides to stick it to main rival who he feels unfairly stole his spot at the anchor desk. With all the powers of Heaven and Earth at his command, Bruce first gives the guy inflection that only Alvin the chipmunk could appreciate, moves on to a serious change in the teleprompter, and finishes with a torrent of manic babble that is pure, vintage Carrey. I nearly fell out of my seat, I was laughing so hard. Unfortunately, that wasn't the only moment I nearly left my seat.

Bruce Almighty is another in a woefully long list of movies whose premises had potential that was never reached. It's a one-note joke; a punchline that has been stretched into a feature length film. Jim Carrey is Bruce Nolan, and Bruce is angry. He's angry because he didn't get the promotion he wanted, he's angry because he steps in a puddle, he's angry because he wrecks his car, he's just angry. Inexplicably, he blames God for all this, as if he were some kind of modern-day Job. Maybe someone should have pointed out to Bruce that Job lost his whole family and had all his livestock smited, but I guess stepping in a puddle's bad too. After a good twenty minutes of whining, Bruce is suddenly introduced to the big man himself, played with an easy kind of nonchalance by Morgan Freeman, who says, basically, if you think it's so easy, why don't you try it? And there you have it. Bruce starts out being selfish, only solving his own problems, then he realizes he has to help people too. He then finds out that helping others is hard and eventually learns to be selfless. Roll credits. It's a little hard to find the moral in this film, not because there's any ambiguity, but because they've chocked it full of platitudes. Be careful what you wish for. Don't be selfish. Do unto others. Actually, the one that shines the brightest is also the most obvious. It's not easy being God. This is, I'm sure, true, but did we need a two-hour feature to tell us that?

Bruce Almighty does accomplish one feat, though I doubt it's one that they'll sit around celebrating. Never before have I seen a movie, ostensibly about religion, that treats its subject with such flippance. The film is completely devoid of spirituality. There really is no "religion" in the movie at all. This could be a good thing, especially if you aren't into preachy movies, but there is something disconcerting about a movie that uses God as little more than a comic device. Of course, Bruce is certainly not the first of its kind. Heaven Can Wait, Oh God!, Defending Your Life, and a whole host of others have all taken a lighter look at the afterlife, God, and all that surrounds them. However, each of those films, in their way, treated religion with at least a hint of reverence, even while poking fun at all the hoopla surrounding it. Bruce simply avoids the subject. There is no mention of differing faiths, creeds, or religious practices. Prayer is relegated to something everyone does before they go to bed at night. Religion, God, is only here as a method for Bruce to gain the power to do wacky things.

God, on the other hand, is, aside from a few very funny scenes early on, one of the best things about the movie. Morgan Freeman makes a great Almighty. God must be a Morgan Freeman fan; just look at the guy's career. The man just exudes all the characteristics you want in a deity. He comes off as kind, serene, patient, all-knowing, all understanding. Everything about him seems to say, "I know you don't really understand what life is all about, but don't worry about it. I've got everything under control." The rest of the acting is passable. Jennifer Aniston plays long suffering with a lighthearted twist, and Jim Carrey does a good enough job, though I wish we'd seen a little more of the energy that made him a star in the first place.

Bruce Almighty is pretty disappointing, especially considering it looked like it might have a little something for everyone, the religious and irreverent alike. All it really delivers, however, are platitudes and easy, pat answers. There are some laughs, to be sure, but many of these are punctuated by an irritating and desperate attempt to coin new catch phrases. Carrey rattles off "B-E-A-Utiful!" and "Guoood!" at least a thousand times a piece, in the hopes, I guess, to start a nationwide craze. Stranger things have happened. Remember "Allllrighty then!" The catch phrases, however, simply make clearer the main problem of the film. It has no heart, no soul, no center. It's all surface and no substance. "What if God was one of us?" I can guarantee he'd be a heck of a lot more interesting than Bruce Almighty. Grade: C-

Bruce Almighty is rated PG-13 for some language and mild sexual references,

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