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Bruce Almighty (Frank's Take)

01/07/2003. Contributed by Frank Ochieng

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In the Christian cut-up comedy Bruce Almighty, the conscientious Carrey is ready to embrace the wacky wonderment of his comedy roots once again by returning to the gawky goings-on that garnered him a cult following amongst the Ace Ventura crowd ages ago.

Bruce Almighty (2003) Universal Pictures
1 hr. 34 mins.
Starring: Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman, Lisa Ann Walter, Steven Carell, Catherine Bell, Mark Adair-Rios
Directed by: Tom Shadyac
Rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

No decent amount of divine intervention could excuse funnyman Jim Carrey from the previous pretentiousness that plagued his recent earnest but drippy drama The Majestic.

But in the Christian cut-up comedy Bruce Almighty, the conscientious Carrey is ready to embrace the wacky wonderment of his comedy roots once again by returning to the gawky goings-on that garnered him a cult following amongst the Ace Ventura crowd ages ago.

The question remains: is Bruce Almighty the heavenly body of hilarity that reigns supreme? Hardly. In fact, the force fed pious platitudes coupled with Carrey’s familiar rubber-faced shtick renders this pseudo-virtuous vehicle a one-way ticket to the pearly gates of mediocrity.

Bruce AlmightyCarrey calls upon his co-producer and Liar Liar/Ace Ventura: Pet Detective director Tom Shadyac to helm this whimsical whimper to capture the manic mayhem that the Canadian comic so eloquently displayed in earlier nifty, nonsensical gems.

The main problem with Bruce Almighty is that it doesn’t take the golden opportunity to viciously carve out the juicy satire and cynicism involving Christianity or those who blindly mock faith in favor of their own empty and clogged-up hearts.

Instead, Carrey is merely satisfied with arbitrarily poking and prodding at the trivial aspects of one’s pettiness. There’s never any challenging element for Shadyac to gleefully attack Carrey’s protagonist’s disbelief by showing the genuine incompleteness of this silly individual in a caustic, revealing mode.

Whereas Carrey craftily demonstrated an awkward but introspective and soulful Everyman in the lyrically wondrous The Truman Show, this prototype is sorely missing in Bruce Almighty. This definitely would have fortified this lackluster laugher with the sardonic energy needed to uplift this film’s tepid sacrosanct spirits.

In what could have been a steady and riotous gimmick with Carrey assuming the mantle of God’s touch quickly delves into a middling project in search of a lengthy prayer.

Carrey plays self-centered Buffalo, New York-based news reporter Bruce Nolan, a poor soul that always seems to get the short end of the stick when it comes to his uninvolved television journalism career. Bruce wants more from his profession besides being saddled with inconsequential assignments that simply fail to measure up to his talents as a local on-air personality.

It appears that good ole Bruce wants to taste the big time and take on the responsibilities of an established anchorman. This way, he can make himself part of the rewarding experience while basking in the spotlight of interviewing the biggest names in the current events forum. Yes, Bruce Nolan has professional dreams that have yet to be realized and elusive goals that are not quite meeting his lofty expectations.

Hence, it’s time for a drastic change of strategy. The disillusioned Bruce can no longer travel in the same circles of familiarity. After all, something has got to give, right?

Despite Bruce’s pending woes, the guy really has it made but somehow he doesn’t see the bright light at the end of the tunnel. He’s attractive and has his health in order. Although his job doesn’t bring him the vote of confidence as much as it used to before, he still enjoys the perks of being paid handsomely for his reporting services.

Most importantly, Bruce has a pretty and level-headed girlfriend named Grace (Jennifer Aniston, The Good Girl) who works diligently as a teacher for kindergarten tots. She adores the put upon Bruce and would do almost anything to ensure that his happiness is in tact. Plus, for the most part, his co-workers and friends don’t mind his company since he’s universally likeable to them. So then why is the self-absorbed sad sack such a poster boy for self-pity? Why all the unnecessary brooding?

Apparently, Bruce is dismayed with the station manager who refuses to give the green light for him to proceed with carrying out the anchor desk duties. Feeling hurt and disenchanted by his professional stagnation, Bruce has to lash out at someone for his misfortune and continuous downfall. What better way to cuss and play the blame game than to personally point the finger at God?

And so he does—Bruce calls out the Almighty and takes him to task for all the mishaps that have been unjustly placed on his tired shoulders. Just as Bruce gingerly scolds God (Morgan Freeman) ad nauseam, He appears in an illusionary form as the disgruntled reporter gathers up his random tirade.

Since Bruce has so much to get off his chest in terms of questioning God and his mysterious ways, the Father wants this big mouth to put his money where his mouth is by granting him the spiritual powers to practice what he preaches.

If Bruce is going to talk a mean game then God will introduce him to the rules and see how he fairs in comparison. Thus, Bruce Almighty is born! While God is serving Mr. Nolan his comeuppance by granting him such extreme abilities in anticipation that this whiner will eventually see what it’s like to question the wisdom of the Supreme Being, the audience is hoping that the ensuing chaos will bring about the rich zaniness that only a merry misfit like Carrey can instigate so effortlessly.

However, the realization of Bruce’s sudden impact with the God-like wizardry that he inherited so unconventionally never rises above anything shamelessly incidental.

Granted, maybe the cheesy celestial symbolism featured in the film is strictly played for cheap laughs thus not meant for the serious-minded 700 Club set to rejoice with reverence. Listen, we’re talking about the giddy gumption of a trademark Jim Carrey flick! Still, it’s totally inexcusable for the collaboration of Carrey and Shadyac to drop the ball and neglect the obvious naughty nuances that could have made this reaffirming ruse a savvy and surly commentary on the importance of believing in a Higher Being.

The soft padding of sentimentality and spiritual cheekiness fared well in the nostalgic pairing of George Burns-John Denver in the Oh God! movie series. But this same approach doesn’t seem quit fitting for what could have been a wry and ribald examination of a deity in the questionable minds of doubting cynics and devout worshipers alike. Carrey is too cunning and courageous to have let his showcase succumb to the standard sophomoric slapstick ramblings of a flimsy religious fable.

Sure, Carrey enthusiasts will be starved for the haughty high jinks that are sure to bring some hearty chuckles to the surface. There’s an array of sight gags and conceptual jokes to choose from such as the Bruce playfully using his powers to enlarge his galpal Grace’s meaty-challenged breasts or using his acquired senses to lift the dress of a curvy cutie as she passes him by on the sidewalk.

Or one might snicker at watching his dog perform a human-like pee trick at the toilet bowl? For those more interested in the natural resources of Bruce’s mischievousness, they can marvel at his obligatory “walking on the water’s surface ” bit or get starry-eyed when he “pulls” the huge white moon from the sky toward him in a cloying romantic gesture.

And let’s not forget the typical tiff that occurs when the pissed-off Bruce butts heads with an annoying adversary in the irritating persona of a competing newsman (Steven Carell from TV’s The Daily Show).

Regardless of the cutesy trickery that is probably more believable in an old Bewitched television rerun, Bruce Almighty engages in syrupy anecdotes that predictably dictate the growth and maturity of a spoiled man-child. Having Carrey’s Bruce Nolan ruffle a few feathers by overseeing the prankish foreplay mentioned previously on an unsuspecting and indifferent society is indeed fun to behold up to a certain point. And having people constantly bother him with their farfetched praying and other wishful thoughts is somewhat hilarious to a certain extent as well.

But why not rescue this lame storyline by instilling something to shake up the audience’s self-awareness and catch them off guard along with Bruce Nolan as their unprepared emotional guide tour? Don’t you think that forcing upon Bruce the burdensome task of addressing issues such as starvation, homelessness, sickness, death or poverty as the substitute God residing in a big city like Buffalo would have brought an uneasy yet comically dark edge to this otherwise toothless morality session?

Bruce Almighty is in need of a droll injection to keep it from withering in its melodramatic meltdown. Carrey, as he has proven countless times before in preferable fare such as the inexplicably underrated The Cable Guy and the aforementioned The Truman Show, has the tremendous fortitude to balance the demented delightfulness of his on-screen nutty charm with that of an unpredictable and deep-seeded aloofness that can be rather chilly in its resonance.

Unfortunately, the mawkish material doesn’t present Carrey with any real platform to bounce around his full throttle three-dimensional angst. The Emmy Award-winning Aniston is all right as the straight woman and love interest pitted against Carrey’s perplexed playmate. Suffice to say, there’s not much to chew on here for Aniston to invest in her character other than to hold up the signature ultimatum that forces Carrey’s perturbed alter ego to get his act in order otherwise he has no choice but to ship out of her life.

Any actress with a lesser name could have taken on this venture besides the high-profiled Friends princess of prime time. Freeman’s take on portraying the saintly Savior is sensible and sturdy as always.

The flighty philosophical stamp is permanently pressed to the point of no return in a cozy comedy unwilling to gamble and let out its inherent hostility. Also, it could have uniquely recognized its hysterical jab at the rituals of Christianity and the undefined notion of man indecisively exercising his free will. Sadly, Shadyac’s stilted narrative isn’t smart enough to uphold such insightful observations.

In addition, the light-hearted lunacy doesn’t lend any attitude or shape to overcome the bland blockage in the spotty script. The good news is that Jim Carrey will always try to meet the expected criteria when saluting the pesky oddballs he inhabits so frequently with reckless abandonment.

Bruce Almighty doesn’t necessary do right by Carrey as he walks aimlessly in the clouds with no silver lining to direct him to the eternal way en route to the fiber of our brittle funnybone. Is it possible for us to get an Amen or halleluiah on this consensus?

Frank rates this film: ** stars (out of 4 stars)

Frank Ochieng

(c) Frank Ochieng 2003

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