A review of “Bruce Almighty” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: **

Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual content

Run Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes

 

 

Jim Carrey needs a hit.  And how.  His dramatic efforts (“The Truman Show”, “Man on the Moon”) have inexplicably failed, and his most recent comic outings (“Liar Liar”) have taken a beating at the box office.

Director Tom Shadyac (“Patch Adams”) isn’t doing Carrey any favors.  His wildly uneven sleight of hand behind the camera renders “Bruce” a slipshod tale of infinitely silly proportion. Carrey plays quintessential everyman Bruce Nolan, a likeable on-the-scene TV reporter covering the comings and goings of Buffalo, New York.  Life is good for Bruce --- he’s a popular television presence and is blessed with the love of a good woman (Jennifer Aniston as perky pre-school teacher Grace).

But Bruce wants more out of life.  He’s pushing 40 and feels he has nothing to show for it.  Cooler digs and an anchor position at the studio would be good for starters, not to mention a new car and the respect of his peers. Bruce’s glass-half-empty attitude takes its toll on his work and his personal relationships, coming to a blistering head when this championship martyr endures the worst day of his life, all the while railing at God for the gross injustice.

And God listens.  Sick and tired of Bruce’s perpetually self-absorbed whining, God (a smooth Morgan Freeman) gives Bruce his wish.  The power to do anything and be anything he wants to be.  The catch?  He has to keep it hush-hush, and no messing with free will.

Shades of “It’s a Wonderful Life”, without the life.  Once he gets control of the universe, Bruce becomes an overbearing, pompous ass.  He seeks revenge on those who have wronged him (with intermittently hilarious results), but does little to aid humankind.  Prayers go unanswered and the plight of the downtrodden does not penetrate his egocentric conscience. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to puzzle out the rest of the narrative path.

Pious sentiment clashes with comic histrionics, leaving the story floundering for tact and grasping at an indistinct point. Aniston and Freeman fill their niches effortlessly (perhaps too much so), but Carrey is at his professional best, pitching his signature slapstick fits with glee and ad-libbing with reckless abandon. Good stuff, but not enough to support the fanciful potential of playing God.