Bruce Almighty Reviewby Harvey S. Karten (harveycritic AT cs DOT com)
May 21st, 2003
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten
Universal Pictures/Imagine Entertainment
Directed by: Tom Shadyac
Written by: Steve Koren, Mark O'Keefe from their story Cast: Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Baker Hall
Screened at: Loews 84th St., NYC, 5/20/03
What would you do if you won the lottery? I'd probably buy a town house in Manhattan, and use my new Mercedes
Kompressor at a second home in the Swiss Alps. A good deal of the rest of the jackpot I'd contribute, of course, to any organization that will further world peace or end hunger. What if we went a step further and awarded you all the powers of God? You could do anything you want with these powers except tell people about your winnings and you could not interfere with free will (i.e. you cannot force a person to love you against his or her will). Tom Shadyac takes this powerful theme, one with infinite possibilities, and delivers a passable pic but nothing to write home about. Not even the comic genius of Jim Carrey has much to work with given the laid-back direction of Mr. Shadyac nor can Jennifer Aniston, who delivers so much warmth in her TV program "Friends," convince us in the preachy parts. Still, given the dumbed-down possibilities that confront us this summer, the "mindless drivel and visually stunning but ultimately pointless" offerings, as the Turner Movie Classics commercial puts it, "Bruce Almighty" is marginally satisfying summer cinema.
Having shown himself best in broadly comic features, Jim Carrey is in slapstick form as an envious Buffalo, New York TV newsman doing absurdly light entertainment sketches such as celebrating the anniversary of a local cookie bakery where Shayac hopes to get laughs by having one of the owners of the store picking his nose while awaiting his turn to be interviewed. Losing out in his struggle to get the anchor job when his boss, Jack Keller (Philip Baker Hall) appoints the starchy and smirky Evan Baxter (Steven Carell) to the desk job, he lets his frustrations out by going nuts on camera, during one of his assignments, continues to complain to his live-in girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Aniston), and ultimately plays the Job card by kvetching to God. The latter, presumably ignoring the suffering of people in Calcutta and Bangladesh, spends considerable time with the forlorn newsman, giving him all of His powers. Somehow, God knows He has nothing to worry about from the competition and the superb Morgan Freeman plays the role with a low profile and his signature charm.
"Bruce Almighty" actually is at its best during the preachy parts, the sentimental slop that critics usually find distasteful but which has proven to charm audiences. Think of how Frank Capra sent Kleenex stock soaring with his 1949 feature "It's a Wonderful Life" wherein James Stewart, like Jim Carrey in the current offering, thinks he is a failure and is saved by divine intervention. Wouldn't you know that Bruce Nolan, having tested his powers by parting a bowl of tomato soup, would mess things up by virtually giving his girlfriend the moon thus causing tidal waves in the Far East to devastate the landscape! Confronted in his email by the prayers of so many people that he simply replied, "Yes to all," he causes riots in his home town as thousands of people have to share the winnings of their lottery tickets.
For laughs, Chadyac whose best alliance with Jim Carrey was the more imaginative "Liar Liar" (about a lawyer who is compelled to tell the truth for twenty-four hours) depends on such sophisticated raillery as a dog's peeing in the toilet, sitting on the potty reading a newspaper, and learning to do his business by the tree outside rather than on the living room couch. Carrey himself is not as energetic as he was in "The Mask" but continues to rely too heavily on grimaces and body contortions. Ironically the best scene in the movie is the final one with Carrey in the role of a light-news interviewer again talking with the owners of bake shop that has once again made a cookie in record-breaking size. His commentary is down-to- earth, whimsical, and genuinely loving. He comes off as a real human being and should be given roles to exploit his talents in that area.
Rated PG-13. 100 minutes. Copyright 2003 by Harvey Karten at [email protected]
Originally posted in the rec.arts.movies.reviews newsgroup. Copyright belongs to original author unless otherwise stated. We take no responsibilities nor do we endorse the contents of this review.