Bruce Almighty

Another identikit Hollywood comedy, bland and inoffensive.

Released in 2003, certified UK-12A. Reviewed on 25 Jun 2003 by Scott Morris
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Bruce Nolan is having a bad day, and he's taking it out on God. Unsatisfied in his work as an 'and finally' reporter of the lighter side of the news, he may make people laugh but feels he doesn't have the mainstream credibility to get the upcoming anchorman position. His newest story has been pushed off the running order by his patronising colleague and favourite for the position Evan Baxter (Steven Carell). He may be in a long-term relationship with a ravishing grade school teacher Grace (Jennifer Aniston), but even that doesn't bring him much joy. His declaration to her that he's living a mediocre life in a mediocre apartment upsets Grace, understandably perturbed at the implied 'mediocre girlfriend' in that diatribe. Before a full blown domestic can occur Bruce vacates the apartment, all the while ranting against God's harsh treatment of him.

Just as he thinks he's caught a break on being given his first live report assignment, he learns that Evan has indeed picked up the anchor position, happily stabbing him in the back as he does so. Bruce goes on an on-air tirade against the company, his life and God for which he receives a sacking. While he's at his lowest his beeper is continually called by an unknown number, eventually leading to him going to a job interview in a seemingly disused building housing the pun-tastic Omi Presents Company. There he meets the janitor, electrician and boss God (Morgan Freeman). Bruce reacts to his claims of godhood much as you'd expect but eventually believes him once God temporarily gives him an extra two fingers.

God is a little annoyed that Bruce has been besmirching his name and offers him a job - his, to see if he can do a better job of it. Bruce leaves endowed with all his powers, although the whole free-will deal is still sacrosanct. Bruce now uses his powers to try and sort out his life and take childish vengeance on others. He causes a variety of bizarre and potentially catastrophic events, such as digging up Jimmy Hoffa's body and a meteor crash. Of course, Bruce is first on the scene for these events, earning him his job back and the name of 'Mr. Exclusive'. While he's off satisfying himself, he's ignoring the pleas of the rest of his community, Grace in particular.

Yup, Grace is eager to get hitched but Bruce is too busy focusing on the holy grail of the anchorman position to see it. This leads to the inevitable break-up, crisis and happy ending scenario that's all too familiar in this type of thing. It's a little less contrived than usual, if you discount the fact that Bruce is a deity that is, but it still smacks of the scriptwriters applying the formula. Still, it's supposed to be a comedy so the plot doesn't necessarily have to be the best since sliced bread for it to be a success, it just has to be funny.

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And it is, pretty much, nearly, sort of. It's more mildly amusing and entertaining rather than hilarious. There is too much of the funnies based on Bruce's dog pissing everywhere and Bruce's attempts to housebreak it. I've stopped finding animals pissing on things funny. There's still a fair amount of Carrey's trademark physical humour, but I've never found Carrey falling over funny. In fairness, once Bruce starts to cut loose with his new powers there's a brief period that's a riot, but it's over too soon and never taken to the extremes I'd have liked to have seen. Carrey himself provides a remarkably restrained performance by his standards but it doesn't reach the levels seen in the excellent Man On The Moon.

It's only at the end when the It's A Wonderful Life knock-off occurs and Bruce does his 'hey, I've a great life after all' act and pleads with God to do anything to make Grace happy that we see what a great actor Carrey can be if he puts his mind to it. For me at least, this film is a step in the right direction as he could be one of the all-time great comic actors if he wasn't so reliant on gurning inanely. His breakdown is believable and touching without once tipping over into his usual exaggerated territory. Shadyac deserves credit for reining him for the majority of the movie and also for letting him cut loose in the scenes where it's appropriate, with very few scenes looking out of place. Only a scene with a just awakened Carrey spasming around on a bed as though he's all hopped up on goofballs as an expression of his displeasure stands out as a miscalculation, his supposedly hilarious antics being met with a stony silence from the audience.

But that's an exception to an otherwise decent balance. If you are pulling the moon in closer to Earth for a romantic evening I'd say you have a right to use exaggerated motions and expressions, and even then it's been kept within the bounds of sensibility. In the interests of science I re-watched Batman & Robin before writing this just to remind myself of how appalling an overblown Carrey performance can be, and it made me more appreciative of the efforts gone in to this rather more controlled performance.

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The supporting cast put in a pretty decent turn too, although they don't have all that much to do. Jennifer Aniston isn't stretched by her role, and she does seem to play the same, slightly less neurotic Rachael from Friends character in every film she's in. Morgan Freeman fares better, although bearing in mind he's being judged against his last outing Dreamcatcher it'd be difficult to be much worse. At any rate, his comic timing is up there with anyone and he also provides a welcome anchor in his scenes with Carrey to stop him floating off into his own little world. Special plaudits must go to Steven Carell, playing the smary git role to a tee before proving he can match Carrey in the madcap gurning stakes if called on to do so.

Despite dealing with a potentially controversial theme it makes sure to avoid any possible incident that could provoke any religious discussion, and at time it almost feels like a Sunday school lecture. The take home message pretty much boils down to pray to God, be contented with your lot and things will be alright. There's people much worse off than you, y'know. It's not obvious enough that you feel you're being battered over the head with it, but there's a very conformist message running through the film. It seems to suggest that rather than be unhappy and take steps to change his life Bruce should have just nodded politely, keep on smiling and sleepwalk through the remnants of his 'mediocre' life. Well, we at theOneliner can't condone that kind of behaviour. We urge everyone to immediately fight the power, smash the system. If you're unhappy, start kicking up bother. You'll of course note that I'm fairly passive at the moment, so by that token I'm happy.

I'm sure all you care about is the bottom line : is it worth your greenbacks? Well, yeah it is, pretty much, nearly, sort of. If you're a fan of Carrey (I'm generally not, see if you can spot the subtle hints above) you will lap this up. Thanks to Shadyac's firm helming, Carrey's playa-hatas have a more than decent chance of liking it as well. To my mind it's only major failing is with an idea that just dripping with potential for all kinds of mayhem it's never fully unleashed, leaving it a little too tame, too bland, too sterile. It certainly an acceptable date movie, more so than the current crop of releases I reckon, so it has a ready made market there. It's certainly more deserving of success than the last stream of diarrhoea from the Hollywood comedy arse, Bringing Down The House.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.

Alan Smithee
Cast list:
Jim Carrey (Bruce Nolan)
Morgan Freeman (God)
Jennifer Aniston (Grace Connelly)
Philip Baker Hall (Jack Keller)
Catherine Bell (Susan Ortega)