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Nothing Heavenly About This One
A review of Bruce Almighty
by Robert A. Fulkerson

I'm a definite fan of Jim Carrey's off-the-wall antics as much as the next person who's a fan of his off-the wall antics. Which is to say he makes me laugh. With the larger-than-life persona Carrey has created, when you go to a movie with his name above the title you expect a certain something from him. Many actors can fall into this kind of role-typecasting. When you see an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, you expect stilted dialogue and things blowing up. When you see a John Cusack movie, you expect John to be playing the oddball character you can identify with. A Tom Hanks movie contains the everyman character you can identify with. A Jack Nicholson movie ... well, is a Jack Nicholson movie.

Director: Tom Shadyac

Stars: Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Baker Hall, Catherine Bell

Rating: PG-13

Release: 05-23-2003

Time: 94 minutes

Buy Movie at Amazon.com With a Jim Carrey movie, you expect him to give you the rubber-faced, loud-mouthed, smartass caricature of himself that he's created. We expect this because of his turns in the Ace Ventura movies, "The Mask", "Liar Liar", and most recently "How the Grinch Stole Christmas".

When he forayed into more serious fare in "The Truman Show" in 1998, it was hailed as a new direction for him. He had the kind of career ahead of him that Tom Hanks had crafted for himself. Playing the off-kilter Andy Kaufman in "Man on the Moon", a critical success and box office failure, Carrey got to stretch even further into the depths of playing serious, meaty roles. Finally, he tried to play a straight serious role in Frank Darabont's "The Majestic". Darabont was able to deliver an amazing performance from Hanks in "The Green Mile", and I'm sure Carrey was hoping he could have similar success with "The Majestic".

Mixed critical reviews and yet another box-office failure in "The Majestic" have led Carrey, after a two-year hiatus, to deliver unto us "Bruce Almighty".

Since the trailer for it first started running, I've been waiting for this movie. Jim Carrey strutting out onto the street singing "I've got the power!", blasting fire hydrants open and lifting women's skirts with a little puff of air? How could that not be good? That's every teenage boy's fantasy. This was the Jim Carrey that the movie-going public has been hungering for since "Grinch".

I sat there watching the movie in a packed Memorial Day weekend theater and I didn't laugh. I should correct that statement. I didn't laugh as much as I thought I would and not nearly as much as the rest of my fellow audience members did.

Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a news reporter who seems to be the reason Murphy's Law exists. Everything that can go wrong to poor Bruce does when we first meet him. He's on assignment, interviewing bakery owners baking Buffalo, New York's largest chocolate chip cookie. He has to wear a hair net over his perfectly coifed hair (the horror!). The baker keeps picking his nose on camera (the cretin!). The bakery owner requires at least three takes before she doesn't mention rat droppings on camera (the ewwww!).

Back at home later that night, fiancée Grace (Jennifer Anniston) quips after seeing his edited piece about the bakery, "It's alright to make people laugh, honey." This heavy-handed line comes less than five minutes into the movie. It's followed later by Bruce telling his boss at the news station, "Am I willing to go out and make an ass of myself in front of people? Yes."

Apparently Carrey feels the need to apologize to his audience that didn't follow him to his more serious fare. Such blatant groveling from a guy who pockets $20 million a gig is shameless and painful to watch.

The rest of the movie plays out like this: Bruce blames God (played coolly by Morgan Freeman) for all of his troubles. Bruce meets God in an abandoned warehouse because Bruce has told God he doesn't like the way bad things keep happening to him. Bruce is blessed with God's powers in a limited-to-Buffalo kind of way. Bruce abuse powers and use them mainly for his own good: the aforementioned teenage boy fantasies, parting congested traffic so he can get to work quicker, and having amazing God-powers-enhanced sex with Grace (if Bruce needs help having amazing sex with Grace, I'm sure any of the Manly Men would be glad to step up to the plate and take one for the team). Bruce finally gets down to the business of being God by simply answering "Yes" to all of their previously unanswered prayers in some sort of godly e-mail spamming experience. Bruce learns a valuable lesson about what it is to be human and what it is to have the power to do anything, or some deep message like that.

Don't worry, I haven't given anything of any importance away. This isn't a terribly suspenseful or insightful movie. The movie can't decide if it wants to let Carrey show his "deep, thoughtful" actor side or his "goofy, oddball" actor side. It's a jumble of clichés and see-'em-from-a-mile-away plot moments. Some actors -- Hanks comes to mind -- can pull off serious and goofy in the same movie. Carrey can't do it. Of course, Hanks probably gets far better scripts in the mail than Carrey does, so I can't blame Carrey entirely. He's an extremely talented actor who is blessed with being able to make us laugh and also to make us take him and his character seriously. He just needs to decide which type of actor he wants to be and then tell his agent to hunt down Hanks-like scripts to showcase those talents.

Unfortunately, "Bruce Almighty" does nothing more than give us a mediocre movie that doesn't do anything for Carrey's fame except fatten his wallet.