Bruce Almighty (United States, 2003)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Are a few good laughs worth wasting 100 minutes of time? For me, the answer is a resounding "No!" There are far more promising avenues to explore in the quest for laughter than the dead-end represented by Jim Carrey's latest endeavor, Bruce Almighty. Putting aside the juvenile humor (which is admittedly, albeit unevenly, funny), all that's left is a woefully underwritten motion picture that starts out as a dumb comedy before taking an ill-advised detour into mawkish sentimentality. The last 30 minutes of Bruce Almighty is so godawful that it almost sent me screaming from the theater.

It's not hard to guess what went wrong here. The filmmakers came up with a great premise and procured the agreement of Jim Carrey to star. After that, there was no need to do more. So, instead of taking the time to craft a storyline and write a decent script, the writers turned in a lazy, poorly developed screenplay whose flaws will be evident to even the most undemanding viewer. This movie doesn't just have holes, it has craters and canyons – yawning abysses into which even the most halfhearted attempts at credibility vanish. It's possible to ignore such considerations in a non-stop laugh-fest, but Bruce Almighty wants to be taken seriously, at least at times. It has aspirations of melding comedy with drama. There's no heart, but, with Carrey on the marquee, who needs one?

Bruce Nolan (Carrey) is a second-rate reporter for Buffalo's Channel 7 Eyewitness News. Recently, things haven't been going well for Bruce. And, on one particularly bad day, in which he loses his job, is beaten up by thugs, and crashes his car, he snaps and launches a tirade at God, who promptly invites him to visit for a chat. God turns out to be Morgan Freeman, and he decides that, while he's on vacation, he's going to give Bruce all of his powers. So self-centered Bruce uses his newfound omnipotence to get an evening news anchor's job, settle a few scores, set the mood for romance with his live-in girlfriend, Grace (Jennifer Aniston), and generally make life easier. Only when God reminds him of his responsibilities to others does Bruce realize that being the Alpha and the Omega means more than just worrying about his own parochial concerns.

After an attempt at straight acting (The Majestic), Jim Carrey is back to playing the clown. But his funny faces and odd mannerisms come across as forced and unnatural. The outrageousness has been dampened – Carrey seems to be doing this only because it's expected of him. He's too busy strutting and posing to develop a real character. Jennifer Aniston is underutilized. Her role doesn't demand the acting ability she displayed in The Good Girl, and she and Carrey exhibit no romantic chemistry. Morgan Freeman gets to wear some cool clothes, make a few speeches, and, most importantly, collect a paycheck.

Had Bruce Almighty been content to follow the well-trodden path of mindless comedies, it might have worked. After all, the scene in which Bruce embarrasses a TV anchor is genuinely funny. But director Tom Shadyac can't resist slipping into Patch Adams mode. The result is a painful final act in which Bruce learns the hard lesson that the greatest power of all is to help others. Pardon me while I retch. Noisily. Someone stop this director from ever making another movie.

Then there's the question of credibility, which the film's Capra-esque pretentions raise. Considering what Bruce does with God's powers, he must have an I.Q. of about 10. About a hundred good plots could have been written with this backstory – anything from a straight comedy to a tragedy, with various stops in between – but Bruce Almighty misses them all. What does Bruce do with his great powers? Use a gust of wind to flip up a woman's skirt, pull the moon closer to Earth, and move aside traffic. No stopping time. No visiting other planets. The gag of Bruce doing silly little things with his powers is amusing for about 60 seconds, then it loses its appeal. Just like this movie.

Then there's the issue of answered prayers. Bruce converts his millions of devout requests into e-mail, and, when he grows tired of reading, he mass-answers "yes" to all of them. So, apparently, he agrees with the bullied teenager who prays that his schoolyard nemeses die horrible deaths. And what happens when people want rival teams to win the same big sporting event? It doesn't require deep thinking to arrive at these scenarios, and the movie's quasi-serious tone mandates that they be addressed in one form or another. But they're not. The filmmakers don't care enough about the audience to do so. It's condescending. And, considering the various indignities the average person has to endure to enter a movie theater (long lines at the box office, rude employees, overpriced concessions), the last thing anyone should want is to be insulted by Bruce Almighty.

Bruce Almighty (United States, 2003)

Director: Tom Shadyac
Cast: Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman
Screenplay: Steve Koren & Mark O'Keefe and Steve Oedekerk
Cinematography: Dean Semler
Music: John Debney
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures
Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2003-05-23
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1