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BRUCE ALMIGHTY

2003, dir. Tom Shadyac
101 min. Rated PG-13.
Starring: Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman, Philip Baker Hall.

Review by Noel Wood

Last year, Chad promised me a review of BRUCE ALMIGHTY that never came into fruition. The crux of his review was to be a comparison of the film's main character to Carrey's own career. It's a pretty good analogy, but it's not the angle I'm going to take here.

Nearly an entire calendar year later, I've seen it, and I'll be the one to deliver a review to you. I realize that it's not exactly the most monumental occasion when we review year-old Jim Carrey comedies here, but it ain't like BRUCE ALMIGHTY is really all that interesting of a movie to begin with.

I wasn't really that interested in the film upon its release, but when prompted to rent something "funny" recently I chose to pick it up because the alternative was something along the lines of BOAT TRIP. And as far as pedestrian comedies go, BRUCE ALMIGHTY isn't all that offensive. It's just kind of there. It wasn't the worst thing I've ever seen, but it certainly wasn't much to write home about. In fact, if anything at all, BRUCE is rather forgettable. That's not really a good thing when you're making a movie where someone gets to play God.

Basically, it goes like this: Jim Carrey plays a guy named Bruce, a C-level news reporter who has been relegated to covering events like the unveiling of a world record chocolate chip cookie. Of course, all he wants is to be respected. He wants to move in to the anchor chair and keep away from the fluff pieces. When things don't go the way he wants, Bruce snaps and loses his job. In the aftermath, he whines a lot and starts complaining about God. So he meets God, and God gives him his powers.

God, of course, is a Magic Negro played by Morgan Freeman. God takes a little vacation and lets Bruce have his time as the almighty, and Bruce starts using his powers for selfish reasons. He eases traffic for himself, he makes his girlfriend's boobs bigger, he trains the dog to use the toilet, and betters his journalistic career. Bruce manages to "luck out" on all the top scoops and sets up the network's new anchor for a fall. Next thing you know, Bruce is in the catbird seat, but things are falling apart around him. He pisses off his girlfriend Grace, but most importantly, he's unable to keep up with the responsibilities of being God.

Jim Carrey gets to play Jim Carrey for an hour or so, which is something I guess he's okay at. Actually, he's not quite as good at playing Jim Carrey as he was six or seven years ago. I guess I can forgive him for this, because he turned in his best performance to date in ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND earlier this year, but his days of being the over-the-top charicature that worked in THE MASK and ACE VENTURA may be past him.

BRUCE ALMIGHTY (or as it should have been titled, ALMIGHTY THEN) marks the return of Carrey to the reigns of Tom Shadyac and Steve Oedekirk, the guys who helped launch his career with the ACE VENTURA films and LIAR LIAR. But Carrey's work with Shadyac in the director's chair is kind of underwhelming. It's too "safe" a version of the Carrey film, far outweighed by the stuff that he does with the Farrelly Brothers. Shadyac doesn't really have a signature to him, and almost seems as if he doesn't have much motivation as a filmmaker. Sure, he's made some average-to-decent comedies (THE NUTTY PROFESSOR and ACE VENTURA, his first two major features) but he's also responsible for such milquetoast crap as LIAR LIAR and PATCH ADAMS.

But BRUCE ALMIGHTY's biggest problem is that it's lazy. Everything about this film looks like it was just slapped together to get it out as soon as possible. Once Bruce is bestowed with his powers, the film goes completely on auto-pilot for a while, trying desperately to be a Carrey vehicle while it still can. The resolution of the movie is absolutely simplistic sentimental bullshit. "Hey, I know you abused your power and ruined people's lives, but you've learned a lesson, and now everything's gonna be OK!" Oh, and while we're at it, we might as well wrap up with him getting the girl again, because we just know that the movie wouldn't test well unless Grace forgives Bruce for all he did to manipulate people.

One place this is apparent is the way that all of the film's background events are revealed. I've always kind of had this thing about films that use radio and news broadcasts to try to paint the setting and crucial events in a movie, and BRUCE ALMIGHTY is probably the worst offender of them all. I guess part of the reason is that there's the whole journalism vibe going on, but it's not really tied in to that at all. Oh, and there's catchphrases. Lots of them. And catchphrases, as anyone who knows how to make a good comedy will tell you, are a pretty cheap way to generate laughs.

That's not to say I didn't laugh a couple of times, but I do mean that I only laughed a couple of times. Most of this movie isn't funny, provided that you've seen any other Jim Carrey film ever. Carrey is wasted, Freeman takes his career three steps backward, and Jennifer Aniston is the only one up there that looks like she knows what she's doing most of the time. I guess if I could remember anything that actually worked, it'd be the two words that Morgan Freeman's God says after teaching Bruce how to mop a floor, throwing in a subtle nod to Carrey's past works by uttering a subdued "Alrighty then."

BRUCE ALMIGHTY isn't a feature film. It's a Saturday Night Live sketch that gets stretched out into an overlong film. The premise wears thin within minutes, and it quickly goes into annoying mode real fast. And what's scarier is how much longer this film would have been had they left the roughly 3 jillion minutes worth of "deleted" scenes in. As a finished product, the supporting players are almost completely omitted from the film, which is pretty sad considering that the cast contains talented folks like Nora Dunn, Phillip Baker Hall, Steve Carrell, and Sally Kirkland (whose character's name is marginally amusing.)

But at best, BRUCE ALMIGHTY falls flat on its face. I've certainly seen films that did a worse job of keeping my attention for an hour and a half, but i didn't exactly walk out of this film with any sort of consequential memories. It's just kind of there.

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