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Almighty, then
Jim Carrey is divine once more

Bruce Almighty
Directed by Tom Shadyac. Written by Steve Koren, Mark O’Keefe, and Steve Oedekerk. With Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, and Jennifer Aniston. A Universal Pictures release (94 minutes). At the Boston Common, the Fenway, the Fresh Pond, and the Circle and in the suburbs.

Want to know what God-like power is in Hollywood? Having the ability to green-light a movie about your own dark night of the soul, your own struggle with the Studio Chief Upstairs. That’s what we have in Bruce Almighty, which is not just another collection of pee and poop jokes from Jim Carrey and director Tom Shadyac but also an allegory of how both men have come to accept the notion that God put them on this earth to make pee and poop jokes.

Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a TV reporter stuck doing wacky human-interest stories in Buffalo. He may also be the pettiest man alive. He thinks he’s the most put-upon man since Job, though he’s really just having One Of Those Days full of comic crises. It all culminates in his discovery, while he’s on the air, that his credit-stealing rival has snagged the promotion he expected, whereupon Bruce has an on-air meltdown that gets him fired. True, he has his health, his lovely apartment, and a live-in girlfriend who looks like Jennifer Aniston, but he still sees this day as evidence that God is mocking him. But when he rails at the Lord, God (Morgan Freeman) responds, inviting him to see whether he can any better as Supreme Being. Accorded omnipotence, does Bruce try to rule the world, disarm the nations, or fix the hole in the ozone layer? No, he uses his powers to become the most popular news anchor in Buffalo. Also, he gets his girlfriend bigger boobs and trains his dog to use the toilet.

The movie’s ambitions are similarly modest. Despite Bruce’s frequent discussions with God, this film has no grand theological statement to impart, no great moral issues to chew over. Even It’s a Wonderful Life, which Bruce Almighty alludes to a couple of times, has a more complex eschatology. If the film has a lesson, it’s that God really does have a tough job. As He puts it in the film, He’s boss and electrician and janitor — how’s that for a holy trinity? He’s got a lot on His plate, so stop annoying Him and solve your own damn problems.

Still, Freeman makes the most reassuring — and the funniest — film God since Ralph Richardson in Time Bandits. (Richardson also played God as a cosmic CEO, punishing Evil by docking its pay " backdated to the beginning of time. " ) Being God gives Freeman the power to do things he doesn’t usually do, like cut loose. In one scene, God misleads Bruce into thinking he’s entered the afterlife. Carrey asks whether he’s really dead. " Naw, " says Freeman. " I’m just messin’ with ya. " The notion that God has a playful sense of humor sounds about right.

Carrey also cuts loose, in a way he hasn’t done for a long time, and the effect is similarly liberating. This is the rubber-faced, rubber-limbed Carrey of old, and it’s a treat to watch his brilliant clowning, no matter how juvenile it is. (After all, such immaturity is in character for Bruce.) As Bruce’s girlfriend, Grace (duh!), Aniston doesn’t have much to do, but her game improves whenever she has to return Carrey’s volleys. As Grace tells Bruce early in the film, " There’s nothing wrong with making people laugh. "

For Carrey and Shadyac, that may be the real message of the film. Both men got their big breaks with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and reached their peaks with Liar Liar. Carrey yearned to become a serious thespian like Robin Williams, but his attempts at straight drama — The Truman Show, Man on the Moon, The Majestic — were increasingly viewed as self-indulgent failures. Same with Shadyac (Patch Adams, Dragonfly). A professed Christian, he spoke in a recent interview of his own " Why, God, why? " moment a decade ago, when he despaired over failing to land a gig directing an episode of She’s the Sheriff. (Now, there’s a spiritual crisis I’d like to see filmed.) God must then have revealed to him that his destiny was to film Jim Carrey talking out of his ass.

Bruce thinks he wants to be a serious broadcaster like Walter Cronkite, but his true longings become apparent about three-quarters of the way through the film, when he’s standing on the sidewalk pleading, " Love me! Love me! " In the end, he realizes that, for him, the way to be loved is to return to his old job and " lower and debase myself for the amusement of total strangers. " Works for me, dude.

Issue Date: May 23 - 29, 2003
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