Long before you buy your ticket to the new Jim Carrey film, you’ve already been doomed to disappointment. Several parties play a role in this. Interestingly, Jim Carrey isn’t one of them.
Let’s see if you can guess who the party most to blame might be: In “Bruce Almighty,” the comic actor plays a Buffalo, New York TV reporter who wishes he were an anchor instead. He’s a whiny, bitter guy prone to blaming God for the problems and let downs in his life and, in response to one such outcry, God appears in the refined, white-suited form of Morgan Freeman and says, essentially, think you can do my job better? Go ahead, give it a try.
Suddenly imbued with heavenly power, Carrey turns into a naughty little devil using his omnipotence to lift skirts, balloon his girlfriend’s busom and train his dog to use the toilet rather than, say, to end world hunger or bring peace to the planet.
Oh, none of this is news to you? Of course not. Universal’s TV ads and trailers gave away every plot point of consequence and showed you virtually every funny moment in the film. I swear to God, there are two, maybe three in addition to the funny moments the studio already showed you in order to create the impression the movie is jam-packed with them. If Hollywood had existed when he was writing the Divine Comedy, Dante surely would’ve reserved a circle in Hell for the marketing execs who keep doing this to the public.
The picture’s directed by Tom Shadyac. He deserves a sizable share of the blame for fun failing to be maximized as well. While he’s the guy who gave us such memorable Jim-a-thons as the first “Ace Ventura” and “Liar, Liar,” he’s also responsible for exercises in sap like “Patch Adams.” If there’s one thing the movie’s ads and trailers don’t tell you, it’s the fact that “Bruce Almighty” stops being a comedy about halfway through and turns into a treacly sermon about responsibility and free will with lots of somber insights borrowed from “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Hey, if I want to waste my time watching a big star in a failed attempt at being Capraesque, I’ll rent the Nicolas Cage flop, The Family Man. That isn’t why people go to Jim Carrey films. That’s why people don’t go to Jim Carrey films, as the failure of The Majestic should have made pretty clear.
The actor does what he does best here. He’s back in full throttle, human cartoon mode for much of the movie and the sight of him unhinged again reminds us how singular a presence he is. It isn’t his fault that the script by, among others, Steve Oedekerk (director of the second Ace Ventura) can’t keep up with him or that we’ve witnessed the awesome power of his physical comedy so many times now that we can’t help feeling a little less awed. Or, once again, that the studio used his best moments to get us in the door leaving only lesser ones as our reward for showing up.
In the end, “Bruce Almighty” isn’t a bad film, just one badly in need of rewrites. For a picture that turns the creative power of the universe over to comedy’s most unrestrained creative force, the payoff is surprisingly earthbound. Jennifer Aniston is squandered as a generic girlfriend. The central character puts his God given powers toward the most mundane of causes-office politics. The loosest cannon on earth winds up with the whole world in his hands and, with every reason to expect comic results of cosmic proportions, the audience finds itself instead spoon-fed cookie cutter homilies and life lessons.
It’ll be a miracle if the movie isn’t a hit but my guess is that, upon seeing it, only the very rare viewer will give thanks.