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Bruce Almighty By Matt Singer
Bruce Almighty is a likable, amusing comedy, a step back for Jim Carrey the “serious” actor and a step in place for Jim Carrey the comedian. If the schtick seems familiar, that’s because it’s pretty much riffs on the same stuff Carrey was doing in everything he’d be in up through 1997’s Liar, Liar. His dramas mostly left audiences behind (though he was particularly terrific in Man on the Moon) so it’s back to the well of puddy faces and voices. There’s a reason he was successful at it in the first place - he’s got an uncanny knack for it.
Bruce Nolan has less of a reason to act like Jim Carrey than some of his previous alter-ego’s though; The Mask’s Stanley Ipkiss only unleashed his inner Carrey when he put on that titular mask; Me, Myself, & Irene’s Charlie Baileygates had a second persona fighting for dominance; Ace Ventura was a pet detective, which entitles you to act however the hell you please. Bruce, well, Bruce is just “goofy” according to his girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Anniston). He’s “always made people laugh” Bruce himself admits in one of his more egotistical moments. We’ll take it, but do you think Carrey acts like that in his personal life? It’s hard to imagine anyone does. All right, anyone but Robin Williams.
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Bruce is a TV reporter who always get shafted with the worst assignments, and at the cusp of his fortieth year (as Carrey was when he made the movie), he is desperate to be taken seriously and land a more respectable job as an anchor on his Buffalo, New York station. Since Bruce getting his promotion would make the film twenty minutes long, he is passed over for his smarmy rival Evan, played perfectly by The Daily Show’s Steven Carell. Fed up with his failure he shouts at God until He takes notice. Called to an abandoned warehouse, he meets his maker, in the form of Morgan Freeman,who is relaxed and sly in the role. He may not be an obvious choice as God, but who could possibly do it better? The only person who I imagine being better is Orson Welles, but unfortunately, he’s already dead.
God gives Bruce his powers and the chance to see if he can lord over things better, a big excuse for Carrey to unleash that monstrous id of his full force. He tortures Evan. He yanks the moon closer to the earth to help seduce Grace. He teaches his adorable dog Sam to use the toilet. It’s good to be the king, and it’s also pretty funny. The script even has the smarts to let us see how seemingly innocent or even kindhearted acts can have dangerous repercussions when they’re performed by a shortsighted goof who isn’t thinking things through.
Theologically, Bruce Almighty won’t give you much to chew on, but it’s storyline eerily echoes Carrey’s own career path. He’s got that comedic gift as everyone, including God, will admit, but what he really wants to do is to be taken seriously, to be the big shot doing the dramatic stuff. After he gets to sample being a responsible adult, he decides being the funny guy’s a pretty great job in and of itself. Pretty on the nose; it’ll be interesting if Carrey recants his testimony if he ever wins an Oscar.
The success of Carrey’s puerile Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (a movie I loved as a teen, and about which my father used to say “The scariest thing about is I can imagine you doing that”) helped clear the way for the comedies of Adam Sandler, so it’s appropriate that the final half hour of Bruce Almighty seems pilfered from Sandler’s most saccharine films. That the film doesn’t completely derail in the process is a testament (not as in the Old or New) to Carrey’s likable persona and Anniston's strong presence as his straight woman and object of affection. “Behind every good man, is a woman willing to put up with him” Bruce says, and boy he is right about that.
Bruce Almighty works most of the time, especially when Carrey is left unfettered to God it up in the crudest, most selfish ways imaginable. It makes you wonder what you would do with omnipotence. He helps himself and hurts his enemies, which is probably what a lot of people would do. I don’t have any enemies, but it’d be difficult to resist that urge to tip the career scales in your favor (a theme that has even more resonance in this terrible job market). Personally? If I could do anything? I would fly.