Bruce Almighty (2003) / Comedy-Fantasy
MPAA Rated: R for violence, sexual content and some crude humor
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman, Philip Baker Hall, Catherine Bell, Lisa Ann Walter
Director: Tom Shadyac
Screenplay: Steve Koren, Mark O'Keefe, Steve Oedekerk
Review published May 26, 2003
Bruce Almighty is an attempt by Jim Carrey (The Majestic, Me Myself & Irene) to marry the comedies that made him a star with the more high-concept films he has made since becoming a more serious actor. From the old school days, Tom Shadyac directs, who also helmed the Carrey comedies Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Liar Liar. For the writing, Shadyac is joined with frequent collaborator Steve Oedekerk (Kung Pow, Patch Adams), who also worked on Ace, as well as TV sitcom vets Steve Koren (Superstar, A Night at the Roxbury) and Mark O'Keefe ("Late Night with David Letterman"). However, there is a fatal flaw in Bruce Almighty that keeps it from ever becoming a good film, and a lesson for future filmmakers who think they can make a lasting comedy through dumb humor: if you're going to shoot for the stars, don't aim low.
This high-concept comedy has Carrey playing Buffalo, NY TV reporter Bruce Nolan, who wants to be an anchor but is stuck doing the fluff pieces usually seen at the end of the broadcast. He finally thinks he has a shot when the station's current anchor retires, but sees the spot go to his rival in the station. In a rage, Bruce curses God Himself for his troubles, and Lo and Behold, God (Morgan Freeman, Dreamcatcher) appears to hear his cries. God grants Bruce the ability to do whatever he wants, and given the Power of God, Bruce proceeds to turn things around in his life the way he sees fit. Trouble occurs when these wishes have side effects that weren't intended, including a strain on the relationship with the woman he loves (Aniston, The Good Girl).
There are a few nice moments in Bruce Almighty that make it tolerable, but not nearly enough to recommend it. Most of these moments occur between Bruce and his girlfriend Grace, played very sympathetically by Jennifer Aniston. Had the film focused more on their relationship instead of Bruce's quest to be the top dog for the local newscast, this probably would have been a far better film. However, with Shadyac calling the shots, the film skimps in that area in favor of pratfalls, sight gags, and toilet humor involving Bruce trying to housebreak his dog.
Jim Carrey has come a long way in his career, showing he is more than a comedian with a penchant for physical humor, but he has his limitations as well. For one thing, he is probably the wrong guy to play happy-go-lucky guy-next-door Bruce, mostly because Carrey lacks the sincerity and graciousness to play such a role convincingly. Were I to cast the film, I might choose a genuine talent as a loser, say William H. Macy, to play the role, and given the directorial and writing chores to people who aren't prone to playing everything as broad as possible. As a result, Carrey is often unlikable as Bruce, which is a definite liability when it comes to feeling sorry for him during the crucial moments of seriousness down the road.
Fans of Carrey will, of course, flock in numbers to see this film, and if I were to guess based on how they generally received his early work, they will probably be the most forgiving of him if he makes a bad film, as long as they get to see Jim be Jim. For the rest of us, who like his more recent efforts, seeing this in hopes that Bruce Almighty could be another The Truman Show, we can only sit through it in disappointment that such a good idea for a movie would play everything so safe and predictable. Just like Bruce, Jim Carrey has been blessed with talents that no one else has, and instead of doing great things with it, he's more content with giving as many people what he thinks they want, and not enough of what they really want.-- Followed by the spin-off, Evan Almighty
©2003 Vince Leo