Bruce Almighty (review)

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Almighty Mess

Oh my god.

Ohmigod, ohmigod, ohmigod.

See, the first thing I’d do if I was God for a week would be to cast “director” Tom Shadyac into a nice, deep, despairing pit of hell, where there’s nothing to do but watch Dragonfly and Patch Adams over and over. I know: then I’d be like, oh, everyone onscreen in Bruce Almighty, with a lazy selfishness and a desire to dodge reality substituting for spirituality. But clearly, Shadyac must be stopped. This is only his latest in a long line of offenses to the human race.

It’s a great idea, ripe for exploration, teeming with opportunities for humor and pathos and drama, but you can’t give it to a team of screenwriters including someone like Steve Oedekerk, the man who’s made many, many movies about thumbs, and then give the script to someone like Shadyac, who ordered his sense of the ethereal from a late-night infomercial for only three easy payments of $39.99. Cuz then you end up with a small, sad, cheap movie, one in which Jim Carrey uses his chance to be God to do bad impersonations and make his girlfriend’s boobs bigger.

Sure, anyone would get a pass for starting out with a few self-serving softballs, just sorta testing out the whole Almighty thing. But Bruce Nolan (Carrey: The Majestic, The Grinch) does nothing but that, using his newfound powers to climb the ladder at work — he’s a reporter for local TV news in Buffalo, New York. It’s probably too much to wonder why a schmoe like Bruce gets his prayer answered and not, say, the kid in the Congo who’s starving to death after having watched his entire village brutally murdered by rebel soldiers who’d like his Mom back, please. Is there something special about Bruce that he merits the chance to take over for the Big Guy for a while? Well, he’s Jim Carrey, and that wacky Carrey sure will go to town with the power, won’t he? Will he make a professional rival fart on live television? Oh, you know he will.

I mightn’t normally mention things like the harsh overlighting and blurry dropped-in backgrounds that attempt to cover up the fact that this movie was shot entirely on Hollywood backlots, but it’s too perfect a metaphor for the film’s fakeness. How does one take the biggest subject there is — God, creator of the universe and everything in it, if you believe in that sort of thing — and make it feel so tiny and insignificant? I don’t think any of the screenwriters understand what “omniscient” or “omnipotent” mean, because the deified Bruce is neither of these things, which in a cleverer movie could be interpreted as God playing a trick on him. But this isn’t a clever movie — it’s a sop to the particular brand of American pop spirituality and an apologia for it. See, if everyone could learn, like Bruce does, how tough God has it, we’d all stop asking him to let us win the lottery and lose 10 pounds and get that promotion at work. He’s just a sad, ineffectual old man in a white suit (Morgan Freeman: Dreamcatcher, The Sum of All Fears) who knows every intimate detail about your life but is either unwilling or unable to do anything about anything.

If God’s a movie buff, it’s probably best for everyone involved here if that’s actually true.

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