Director : Tom Shadyac
Screenplay : Steve Koren & Mark O'Keefe and Steve Oedekerk (story by Steve Koren & Mark O'Keefe)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2003
Stars : Jim Carrey (Bruce Nolan), Morgan Freeman (God), Jennifer Aniston (Grace Connelly), Philip Baker Hall (Jack Keller), Catherine Bell (Susan Ortega), Lisa Ann Walter (Debbie), Steven Carell (Evan Baxter), Nora Dunn (Ally Loman)
Bruce Almighty might best be seen as Jim Carrey atoning for what some perceived to be his “sin” of trying to be a serious actor in recent years. His emoting as a serious actor worked well enough in Peter Weir’s The Truman Show (1998), which allowed Carrey to expand his range without fully sacrificing all of the comedy that his fans so fervently adore. In that film, he morphed quite seamlessly into a Jimmy Stewart-gone-goofball persona that was both funny and touching, a near-perfect mixture of humor and sentiment. The same cannot be said, however, for his most recent role in Frank Darabont’s overly sappy The Majestic (2000), which left all of Carrey’s comedic qualities in the dust as it yearned ever so earnestly to reach the lofty pinnacles of Frank Capraesque pathos. It was an unfortunate move on Carrey’s part, because he had almost convinced a lot of naysayers that he had the potential to cross, ala Tom Hanks, into more serious material.
In Bruce Almighty, he takes several steps backward as an actor into a comfortably wacky role, even if the character he plays doesn’t always fully require Carrey’s mania. Similar to his role in The Mask (1994), Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a much-put-upon everyday Joe who aspires to an anchor position at the Boston TV station for which he works, but instead finds himself assigned to silly “color” stories about giant cookies and Niagara Falls tour boats. Bruce is a good guy, but pushing 40, he’s not happy with the way his life has turned out, even if his adoring girlfriend, the aptly named Grace, looks like Jennifer Aniston.
When a coveted anchor position is given to the smarmy, backstabbing Evan Baxter (The Daily Show’s Steven Carell), Bruce finally loses it, literally cursing God for his misfortune, but not before having a hilarious breakdown during a live broadcast aboard a boat floating near Niagara Falls, which is easily the funniest scene in the movie. In response, God (played, in a feat of perfect casting, by Morgan Freeman) offers Bruce all his powers to give him a taste of what it feels like to be almighty. Of course, God-like powers have their benefits, but it also comes with the price of having to hear millions of desperate prayers, not all of which can be answered in the way the praying person wants.
The concept of Jim Carrey having the powers of God has a host of possibilities, and Bruce Almighty makes good on a lot of them. For the first week, Bruce uses his powers for purely selfish purposes, making incredible events happen (the discovery of Jimmy Hoffa’s body, a meteor crashing to Earth) and then covering them for the news, which causes him to ascend professionally, even if it is at the expense of many others. Of course, that can’t go on forever, and Bruce must eventually learn the lesson that Spider-Man learned last summer: With great power comes great responsibility. That this didacticism actually comes across in a nongrating fashion is a surprising relief, especially given that Liar Liar, the Carrey comedy that Bruce Almighty most resembles, fell apart at the seams when it got preachy at the end.
In the grand scheme of things, Bruce Almighty is not great, but it’s pleasantly enjoyable from start to finish, particularly for those who want to see Jim Carrey getting back to his roots (those of us who appreciate his stretching his acting chops from time to time will simply have to wait). Carrey manages to balance the film’s often outlandish humor with a surprisingly touching, if ultimately simplistic, look at the relationship between humans and God; the sentiment borders on being ham-handed, but never quite splurges over. It isn’t quite enough to fully restore anyone’s lost faith (in God or Carrey), but it’s a charming enough diversion in a summer filled with larger-than-life action heroes and lots of explosions.
Copyright © 2003 James Kendrick