Combustible Celluloid
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With: Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman, Philip Baker Hall, Steve Carell
Written by: Steve Koren, Mark O'Keefe, Steve Oedekerk
Directed by: Tom Shadyac
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual content and some crude humor
Running Time: 101
Date: 05/23/2003

Bruce Almighty (2003)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Heavenly Creature

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Poor Jim Carrey. Like many other great screen comedians -- Charlie Chaplin, Jerry Lewis, Robin Williams, Steve Martin, Tom Hanks, Roberto Benigni -- he has become obsessed with Significance. He's realized that comedy does not earn respect and that one has to play a Terry Malloy or an Atticus Finch or an Oskar Schindler to become truly noble and notable.

It doesn't help that when Carrey goes all the way to the edge and fully explores the depths of his soul, as in The Cable Guy, The Truman Show or Man on the Moon, audiences turn away. So it's no wonder that he took his first misstep with the truly wretched The Majestic, a sappy, Capra-wannabe drama that doused Carrey's demon.

With his new film, Bruce Almighty, he goes back to comedy and even spends a few moments raging with his inner demons before the whole thing collapses into a pile of sentimental pudding. It starts in darkness, moves into safe Liar Liar territory, and ends with boring Significance.

In Bruce Almighty he plays a TV news reporter who gets stuck with fun feature-type stories about big cookies and waterfalls, and -- just like real life -- he longs for the honor and dignity of the hard news desk. When a brown-noser gets the job, Bruce loses his mind and screams violently at the heavens, blaming God for his mishaps.

This does not sit well with Bruce's longtime girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Aniston) who wants to settle down but can't handle Bruce's selfishness and the fact that he doesn't appreciate what he has. Against all odds, Aniston takes this standard-issue "girlfriend" role and nails a couple of very good scenes with an excellent, heartfelt performance.

Everything changes when God (Morgan Freeman) answers Bruce's call and lets Bruce take over the job of being Divine for a while. Bruce get laughs by using his new powers to train his dog, part traffic, and finally get the news anchor job. But rest assured, it won't be long before Prayer and Faith enter into the picture and Bruce realizes what a tough job being God really is.

Not to mention that he's not allowed to play with human will, which is the one thing he really wants to do after Grace leaves him. The movie's last 30-40 minutes are one long sermon, delivered to us when all we wanted was to laugh.

But the first 30 or so minutes show Carrey at his finest: the manic fits, the selfishness, the endless defensive, reflexive comedy.

His humor comes from somewhere dark, just like the greatest of all screen comics -- going all the way back to W.C. Fields and the Marx Brothers. And that's where the conundrum comes in. If Carrey embraces his darkness, audiences bolt. And if he veers over to the other side, toward sappy nobility, audiences still bolt. So he's stuck doing middling, brain-dead Ace Ventura films.

If the studio system of old were still intact, Carrey could depend on a series of comedies perfectly tailored for him, but with today's demographics and expensive salaries, his greatness is being squandered.

DVD Details: 15 deleted scenes, "Inside the Creative Mind of Jim Carrey," "Insights" from director Tom Shadyac, more.

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