Mark Reviews Movies

BRUCE ALMIGHTY

3 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Tom Shadyac

Cast: Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Baker Hall, Catherine Bell, Steven Carell

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for language, sexual content and some crude humor)

Running Time: 1:41

Release Date: 5/23/03


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Review by Mark Dujsik

If I had God's powers, I'd like to think I would be good—help others, cure diseases, feed the hungry, work for world peace. The thing is, I think most people—myself included—would truly want to do things along the same line but would want to have a little fun and help themselves out first. There's nothing wrong with that, really; it's a natural human characteristic, a desire for power. And with the whole universe on a string, it'd be incredibly easy to lose sight of anything beyond what's right in front of you. That's why it's easy to relate to the titular hero of Bruce Almighty, because even though he spends the majority of his time with divine powers acting on his own behalf, we don't think any less of him. There are a few ways one could handle this fable—and one day I'd like to see this premise taken to its theological/philosophical ends—but for the filmmakers here, comedy coupled with lately developed sentimentality and moralizing is the path of choice. The humor works (albeit with reservations), and once you get through the syrup, the film has a surprisingly relevant and humanistic lesson to pontificate.

Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is a television reporter centered in Buffalo, New York, where he covers the cutesy stories about giant chocolate chip cookies and the like. He wants more, though, namely the anchor job that will be opening up very soon. His girlfriend of five years, the transparently named Grace (Jennifer Aniston), is supportive but immensely troubled by his tendency to focus on himself and his problems almost to the point of ignoring her completely. After missing a programming meeting because of traffic, Bruce's story is bumped, but his boss Jack Keller (Philip Baker Hall—yes, really Philip Baker Hall) gives him a live feed from Niagara Falls to compensate. Just before he goes on live, he discovers that he's lost out on the anchor job, which leads to a horribly unorthodox report/outburst that ends up getting him fired. From then on, his day just keeps getting worse, and after a night of ranting and raving to the heavens, he repeatedly receives a page from an unknown number. When he finally calls it, he's sent to an abandoned building where he meets God (Morgan Freeman), who's decided to give Bruce a chance to do a better job.

So, with God's powers, what does he do? Why, send breezes up women's dresses and make Grace's breasts a cup or two bigger, of course. Considering the limitless possibilities of having a character who is able to manipulate the cosmos as he sees fit, the screenwriters (Steve Koren, Mark O'Keefe, and Steve Oedekerk) don't stretch their imaginations as much as you'd expect them to. But where they do take the jokes work for the most part. Bruce walks on water, pushes rush hour traffic out of the way, and aims just retribution at a gang that beat him up on his worst day ever by having a monkey come out of the most obvious bodily orifice (although that doesn't mean it's anywhere near the most pleasant). In the film's funniest scene, Bruce takes over the new anchor's body and speech control on his first day of the job, causing him to spasm and spout out unintelligible blabber. The success of the scene belongs to Steven Carell. The gag we know is going to happen is the water into wine bit, and kudos to the filmmakers for keeping it subtle.

It's even more appreciated because there's so little subtlety left anywhere else. In one scene, Bruce moves the moon closer to his apartment window to set the mood for a romantic evening with Grace. That'd change the tides, I think while it's happening, but I let it slide because it's a fantasy. Turns out that angle is played out. A meteorite that Bruce summons to get an exclusive story gets people talking about the end of the world. And what happens when everyone who prays to win the lottery has their prayer answered? It leads to a massive riot, which clears up with amazingly little hubbub, but the point is being God has its consequences. Jim Carrey plays it all with usual physical flair, but not everything without a trace of subtlety works as well. The film gets a little too sappy near the end with Bruce trying to win back Grace and coming to have a grand revelation. Director Tom Shadyac has had a horribly sentimental shtick going on in his recent movies, and while there are still elements of that in the third act here, it is a step in the right direction.

That's because Bruce Almighty, for all its eventual sermonizing, never stops dead with schmaltz. It actually makes a good point about people who "spend too much time looking up," and when it's brought across by someone like Morgan Freeman, it has the stamp of truth on it. Which brings me to the last point, where, in keeping with tradition, I've saved the best, and that is Freeman, who exudes humor, forcefulness, compassion, understanding, and, well, everything you'd expect from an actor playing God. Yes, that also means he transcends the material.

Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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