Directed by: Tom Shadyac
Starring: Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Anniston, Phiip Baker Hall, Steven Carell
reviewed by Ken Hanke
Since Jim Carrey has gone on record saying that if he indeed did have God's powers, he would send everyone who didn't like The Majestic to hell, I guess I'm lucky he's not so emboldened. And while I liked Bruce Almighty better than I liked The Majestic, I suspect my feelings about Carrey's latest opus would earn me another couple centuries of being toasted like a Lucky Strike on the Satanic rotisserie.
It's interesting that Carrey should be nursing a grudge over the tepid response to The Majestic since Bruce Almighty is a lot like Ace Ventura Goes to the Majestic. Try to envision -- if you dare -- Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life with boob jokes, a running gag involving a urinating dog, a "butt monkey" and, worst of all, a tendency to mock the sort of gooey, uplifting twaddle that Carrey's film finally becomes.
What's up with a movie that starts out parodying "feel-good" entertainment ("All right, cue the cheesy, uplifting music!") and then turns into just that, doing so with an apparent straight face? Much in the manner of Adam Sandler's Anger Management, Bruce is an uneasy attempt to straddle target audiences -- and it duplicates many of the mistakes of the Sandler vehicle almost exactly. If anything, Bruce is even less successful because it insists on force-feeding the viewer an entire three-course Capra-corn dinner. All the film lacks is the post-prandial glass of badly needed Bromo Seltzer.
The movie starts out in trouble. Bruce is one of those films where you go in knowing the premise and then are forced to slog through a couple reels of setup just to get you there -- which wouldn't be so bad if those opening reels weren't painfully expository and shy on laughs. Once the film gets to its point -- and gets to Morgan Freeman as God -- it picks up a certain amount of steam.
Freeman's natural dignity, screen presence and innate, wry sense of humor do much to lift the film out of its by-the-numbers rut, though, truth to tell, there's not a whole lot of distance between his God and "De Lawd" as portrayed by Rex Ingram in the 1936 film version of Marc Connelly's The Green Pastures -- only the dialect has been dropped. Even the concept is similar, since much of Pastures dealt with the idea that "even being God ain't no bed of roses," while in Bruce, being given God's powers is just a way of proving that same point to Carrey's character.
This concept fails largely on account of the film's uneasy mix of Carrey doing his usual shtick while, at the same time, trying to be deeply philosophical (while actually being very tentative about it). The gags are more silly than daring or outrageous. "I'm not much on blaspheming," God tells Bruce at one point -- and judging by the evidence, neither are the filmmakers, who are very careful not to offend anyone. In other words, Dogma this ain't. About the "wildest" the movie gets is having Bruce use his powers to cause a pretty girl's dress to billow up above her head to reveal her decorously matching panties.
The funniest thing in the film is probably the genuinely clever sequence with the aforementioned "butt monkey," about which I will say no more. And the most interesting thing -- apart from Freeman's performance -- is the fact that Carrey gives the brightest moments over to the monkey and supporting player Steven Carrell (from TV's The Daily Show), which is probably the result of Carrey's desire to be taken as a more serious actor. The most annoying aspect of it all is the way Bruce wastes Jennifer Anniston, who, in the wake of The Good Girl, deserved better than this underwritten, undeveloped romantic lead.
Not content with turning into a movie that tries to out-Capra Capra, Bruce ultimately endeavors to arrive at a "happiness lies back in your own back yard" message straight out of Preston Sturges' Sullivan's Travels. The film is worth seeing for Freeman and a few isolated gags -- and I'll give it high marks for daring to eschew modern comedy's seemingly requisite flatulence jokes -- but Bruce is never the wildly funny farce it might have been, nor the deep-dish meaning-of-life tract it thinks it is.