Bruce Almighty

Starring:
  • Ace Truman Ventura Burbank
  • Cinema's Favorite Minority That Teaches White People About Life
  • Bijan's Hottest Patron (Springfield, MO Audience Only)

 

 
Directed by Tom "Patch Adams" Shadyac

"Dammit Jimbo, I'm the Wild Card! Why can't you white people understand that?"

In Need of Divine Intervention

What the hell is going on inside the brains of Steve Oederkerk and Tom Shadyac? Oederkerk's screenplay resume includes Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls, both The Nutty Professor movies, and Patch Adams; Mr. Shadyac's directorial canon includes the first Ace Ventura movie, The Nutty Professor, Liar Liar, and—does any movie invite more derision?—Patch Adams. Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy, and Jim Carrey probably love these guys because there's so little direction that they're free to mug away. These movies have no conception of life outside of themselves that to watch them is to enter an alternative universe in which laughter in indeed the best medicine, a man becomes explosively fat for laughs, and in Bruce Almighty, where God allows the death of a few hundred Chinese just to teach some self-absorbed Yuppie a lesson.

Jim Carrey is Bruce, a local television "human interest" reporter whose job is to cover non-events and make them funny. His girlfriend is—get this—"Grace" (Jennifer Anisten), one of those movie angel-wives whose charitable job (here, a day-care director) teaches the self-obsessed boyfriend/husband that there's more to life than just material possessions. Bruce works in Buffalo (on the short list of movie purgatories, along with Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Detroit) at a TV station in need of a new anchor. But, you see, Bruce can't be a "serious" reporter because he's known as the "funny guy." Then God grants him His powers, which Bruce uses to try to make the world see him as a "serious" reporter. But then Bruce realizes that that's not really him, and God makes him see that there's no shame in making people laugh.

I would like to think that Oederkerk and Shadyac see themselves as God in this scenario—a complex worthy of Bergman or Kubrick. Either way, this movie is about Jim Carrey's return to comedy after an Oscar-less run at "serious" movies. My favorite scene is when Jim Carrey, arms outstretched in the rain, screams for the world to "love me!" It's the most literal translation of Oederkerk and Shadyac's canon to date, and an impressive plea for Carrey's martyrdom at the hands of the Academy. "Lower and debase myself for the pleasure of others," Carrey scoffs—yes, Jim, that's right: The Gods of Moviedom have commanded you to make comedy blockbusters for the masses.

And while we're considering the meta-dynamics of Bruce Almighty, let's deal with Morgan Freeman. Morgan has been showing the light to white people for two decades now: He's helped win the Civil War, drivin' to the sto', been crucified for Clint Eastwood's sins, pointed out the follies of Sherwood Forest, helped Tim Robbins break out of Shawkshank, figured out a riddle for Brad Pitt, fought for the abolition of slavery, Presidentially guided the nation through a meteor crisis, helps kickboxing Ashley Judd find a killer, and been THE WILD CARD. The only possible career move is to play God. And why not? The Enlightened Minority is God's proxy anyway, a dark angel in disguise to help uptight white people from all walks of life, so why not just move on up to the penthouse? And Morgan confirms something we've known all along: God wears a Yankees hat. The bastard.

This movie would have been a lot more entertaining had it been Kiefer Sutherland's voice on the other end of Bruce's beeper, but as Bruce Almighty instructs us, you can't always get what you want. I wanted this movie to be a funny counter-riff on Carrey's last brush with the Divine, The Truman Show. That film imagined Jim Carrey's life as a big television show, written, directed, and produced by God—or, in that case, Ed Harris. For my money, The Truman Show is one of the ten best films of the 1990's—a cultural and spiritual inquiry into the conflict between Calvinism and free will, ultimately arriving at the conclusion that if God really does have a plan for us, then we have no humanity, and our only rational decision is to deny our Maker. Bruce Almighty could have been the comic flip-side of The Truman Show, a Python-esque shattering of religious pretensions, that our Lord is probably a lot more hands-off than we've been led to believe. Instead, the God set-up is just a vehicle for dog-pee gags and Jim Carrey unleashing pent-up frustration. Carrey is reliable (don't miss his Clint Eastwood impersonation), and Oederkerk and Shadyac throw us a few bones, like Carrey dressed as Mark Twain covering an asteroid explosion. Any positive marks are negated, however, for the joke that Gandhi was so mad at God that "he didn't eat for three weeks."

The fundamental problem with the film's premise is that it mocks and derides Yuppie self-absorption, but then indulges precisely that in the end. Bruce uses his divine powers for selfish purposes, but there's no acknowledgment of the world outside of Buffalo—Bruce's own private purgatory. The film is so petty, like when we see pictures of starving children on TV, but God seems hell-bent on teaching Bruce how to be a better boyfriend—speaking of which, God bless Jennifer Anisten, who proves herself more worthy than token girlfriend roles. But the only real winner in Bruce Almighty is "The Daily Show" correspondent Steve Carrell, who out-mugs Carrey when he takes over as the news anchor. If there is a God, He will appear to some studio exec and proclaim that Carrell and Stephen Colbert deserve more and better movie roles. Had Bruce Almighty really been the work of the Divine, then He would have had Steve Carrell bring John Stewart and "The Daily Show" writers with him to the set. Now that would be a God movie Python could be proud of. Instead, Bruce Almighty is a film that wanted to be the Creator's Groundhog Day, but ended up closer to Life or Something Like It and King Ralph.

The Pitch:
 
1 The Truman Show
Plus
 
King Ralph
Equals
   
1 Bruce Almighty
See It For:

Jim and Jennifer shocked when Brad gets bored and drops trough on the set.