Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is having some problems. In a single day he is passed over for a promotion, fired, smashes up his car, and is beaten up by a street gang. He blames God for his run of bad luck, equating the lord as a kid with a magnifying glass and he himself as an ant. In an angry tirade he declares that "the kid gloves are coming off" with respect to God and his belief system because of his own prayers and wishes being ignored. He demands that God show himself and explain his divine plan. The next day Bruce begins receiving a series of messages on his pager that lead him to a rundown old factory; a place called OmniPresence on the faded lettering outside. Inside he meets God himself (Morgan Freeman) and, after convincing Bruce that he really is the Almighty One, explains that Bruce is to take on all of God's powers and abilities while the lord is on vacation. There are only two rules to the arrangement: nobody can find out that Bruce is God, and Bruce cannot use his powers to change someone's free will. And so we have Bruce Almighty, the 2003 PG-13 film release directed by Tom Shadyac (who previously worked with Carrey in Liar, Liar).

Bruce Almighty is a fun summer romp of a film. Adults will like it for its thought-provoking concepts of morality, responsibility, and faith, while little kids will like the gags where Bruce's dog pees on the stereo. In the first week that Bruce has the power of God he makes a few changes that directly effect him, such as beating up the gang of toughs, getting some snappy new clothes, and seducing his girlfriend Grace Connelly (Jennifer Aniston). He pulls the moon closer to the Earth and creates several new, romantic stars in order to woo Grace, for example. What Bruce has yet to realize, however, is that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. His stunt with the moon caused havoc with the tides in Japan, for instance. He also uses his powers to get his old job back (news reporter for non-news, such as a local bakery breaking large cookie records and such) but instead puts an amazing spin on the stories he covers, a feat that earns him the name "Mr. Exclusive". What starts out as a story on heroic police dogs winds up with the discovery of the body of Jimmy Hoffa. Ultimately Bruce has his eye on the job of anchorman, but it will take some work to pry loose the current anchor from the position.

While Bruce sleeps he hears the sounds of prayers coming from everyone around him in Buffalo, New York. God tells Bruce that those prayers will stack up if he doesn't handle them, and so Bruce conjures up a computer system to help deal with the prayer glut. The DVD release of the film will allow us to freeze-frame these brief scenes to get a better look at the subject line gags on the prayer e-mails. Some of the ones I spotted ranged from "lost dog" to "winning lottery numbers". Frustrated that the prayers are coming in faster than he can answer them, Bruce simply decides to grant them all just to get them out of the way. Ever wonder what would happen if everyone's prayers were granted? Due to the granting of the lottery wishes over 40,000 people win the lottery, causing payouts of only $17.00 per person and an investigation at the lottery commission. The film does what it can to portray prayer from God's point of view, deciding which prayers to answer and which to decline. It's not an overly spiritual film (c'mon, it's a Jim Carrey movie) but it does inspire some thinking about the nature of prayer.

There are plenty of great gags in the film, the characterizations are straight-up, and there's lots of subtle humor to be found. Watch for the moment when God says "Alrighty then" in a nod to Ace Venture: Pet Detective. The one drawback to the film that I noticed was that, as seems to be the case anymore, the film's trailer gave away the best parts of the film and ruined setups/payoffs that would have been much more clever and hilarious had the punchlines not been revealed in the advertisements. Don't let this stop you from taking in the movie, though. There are still plenty of other great moments and if you stay after the credits you'll get to see some great outtakes of Carrey screwing around on the set and flubbing his lines. Have faith in my opinion and go see Bruce Almighty.

Fun fact: God's phone number, 776-7373, actually belongs to several people around the USA. These people are quite angry at Universal Studios now after they have been receiving crank calls around the clock from people looking for God/Morgan Freeman. For the DVD release the number was changed to a traditional "555" fake number.

I'll tell you the truth: I was once a huge Jim Carrey fan. I loved both of the Ace Ventura movies, which were basically nothing more than vehicles for Carrey's zany, rubber-faced antics. I loved his work on In Living Color, too. I think the guy was and still is a comic genius, frankly. Which is why I'm so disappointed to see him taking on so many mediocre, "serious" roles in which his comedy is reduced to a side show, his all-consuming lunacy repackaged as an endearing quirk in an otherwise realistic character.

Jim Carrey is not a realistic character, he's a cartoon, and it just looks silly casting him as Joe Average. With a permanent Joker's rictus plastered to his face (the guy is physically incapable of smiling like a regular human being), he's never gonna cut it as the everyman Hollywood seems convinced that he is.

The problem, I'm afraid, is that Carrey, like Robin Williams before him, has gotten it into his head that he is more than a goofball actor, that he can be a serious actor too, and that it's his mission to do at least one movie with a message for every wacky comedy. We lose more good comedians this way. It's an epidemic, really.

OK, maybe I went a little too far there, comparing him to Robin Williams and all. I didn't mean to get nasty. At least all of Carrey's movies are still ostensibly comedies. I guess I wouldn't mind the cheesy morality in a movie like Bruce Almighty so much if the comedy part were holding up its end of the bargain.

In Liar Liar, for instance, there was a message, but it knew it was playing second fiddle to the jokes, and it didn't try to hijack the whole movie for its own preening self-importance.* The plot device was pretty flimsy, but it did what it was supposed to do: get the man into some hilarious situations so they could slap them together and call it a film.

The plot device in Bruce Almighty is about as novel as crap in a toilet. Morgan Freeman is God, in a fine turn of casting (has this guy played God before? I don't know, but it's the role he was born to play.) God needs a vacation, or something, so he's giving Bruce the chance to take over for a while.

Bruce is a whiny ingrate of a news reporter who thinks his life is terrible because he gets passed over for the big anchor job, and because he has to sit in traffic on the way to work, and because he stepped in a puddle, etc., etc. Cleverly juxtaposed next to his incessant complaining are people being carried away from accidents on stretchers, and a homeless guy who holds up punny, insightful signs**, and the fact that his girlfriend is Jennifer Aniston. Ohhhh, I get it, he's taking his life for granted!

Must... curb... vitriol...

So anyway, Bruce gets to be God, which means he can do anything, aside from altering free will. Naturally, hijinks and hilarity ensue. But not enough hijinks, and definitely not enough hilarity. There were some scenes where I laughed and it wasn't a forced, "damn, he's really trying!" kind of laugh. One of them involved Steve Carell more than Jim Carrey. Most of the time I amused myself by whispering the characters' lines to myself just before they said them.


At the end, it dawns on us that God orchestrated this whole thing just to give Bruce a chance to learn a big important life lesson. Talk about a shocker!

The plot shouldn't be important; I shouldn't have anything to say, positive or negative, about it. It's a Jim Carrey movie, for chrissakes. But this plot is so prominent, and so bursting with facile morality, that I'm forced to retaliate. It's preachy, simplistic, saccharine bullshit, and it got on my nerves, OK? Robin Williams probably turned down this part to go make Jumanji 2.

I'm sorry, that was inappropriate and hurtful. Look, this isn't even that terrible a movie; I should be writing this review under The Majestic. I guess it was just the straw that broke the camel's back. I know Jim Carrey is better than this, and I hope he gets his groove back some day. I hope he remembers what his gifts are, dispenses with the Oscar-chasing or whatever it is he thinks he's doing, and goes back to making his buttcheeks talk.

For the Robin Williams fans out there: I'm only funnin'. He's played some good serious roles.

* By the way, I'm not giving Liar Liar any hearty endorsement either, I just think it made better use of Carrey and didn't try to invest the gimmick with too much meaning.

** Apparently homeless people are actually virtuous sages in disguise who spend the majority of their time writing cutesy aphorisms designed to nudge wayward souls toward their salvation. Actually, the film seemed to be saying that this particular urban outdoorsman was God incarnate, as his head inexplicably and frighteningly morphed into Morgan Freeman's in the disturbing finale.

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