Director – Tom Shadyac, Screenplay – Steve Koren, Steve Oedekerk & Mark O’Keefe, Story – Steve Koren & Mark O’Keefe, Producers – Steve Koren, Mark O’Keefe, Tom Shadyac, Michael Bostick, James D. Brubaker & Jim Carrey, Photography – Dean Semler, Music – John Debney, Visual Effects Supervisor – Bill Taylor, Visual Effects – Illusion Arts (Supervisors – Taylor & Syd Dutton), Hammerhead & PM, Animatics – Pixel Liberation Front, Special Effects Supervisor – Dave Kelsey, Makeup Effects – Lance & David Leroy Anderson, Production Design – Linda de Scenna. Production Company – Shady Acres/Pit Bull Productions.
Jim Carrey (Bruce Nolan), Morgan Freeman (God), Jennifer Aniston (Grace Connelly), Steven Carell (Evan Baxter), Philip Baker Hall (Jack Baylor), Catherine Bell (Susan Ortega), Lisa Ann Walter (Debbie Connelly)
Bruce Nolan is a field reporter with a Buffalo news channel who feels put upon by God due to his second-rate life. When the opportunity for an anchor desk promotion he wants passes him by, Bruce goes to pieces on air and curses God. He then receives a pager message from God asking him to come to an interview. There God tells Bruce that he is going on a vacation and will turn his powers over to Bruce for one week. At first disbelieving, Bruce then begins to discover and exercise the powers. He uses them to humiliate his rival at the network and cause a series of miraculous occurrences that turn him into the top newscaster, while setting up a computer that automatically answers everybody’s prayers. When his activities also cause his girlfriend Grace to walk out, Bruce realises that the one thing he cannot do is affect free will and make her come back.
Once upon a time, Jim Carrey was a wild and crazy guy. Carrey had a meteoric rise with films such as Ace Ventura, Pet Detective (1994), Dumb and Dumber (1994), The Mask (1994) and Liar Liar (1997) where his specialty became rafter-rattlingly over-the-top acting and elastic faced exploits. These were enough to propel Carrey to the $20 million club. Thereafter Carrey became affected with the same disease that got Woody Allen down and started to get serious about his comedy and look for greater acceptance beyond it. Carrey took on serious dramatic roles in the likes of The Truman Show (1998), Man on the Moon (1999), The Majestic (2001), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) and The Number 23 (2007). Both The Truman Show and Eternal Sunshine were critical hits (although not because of Carrey), but the other two flopped badly.
Bruce Almighty emerged as Jim Carrey’s first attempt since Me, Myself & Irene (2000) to make a Jim Carrey-styled comedy. To this extent, Carrey goes with the familiar and reteams with Ace Ventura and Liar Liar director Tom Shadyac and Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls (1995) writer/director Steve Oedekerk of Kung Pow: Enter the Fist (2002) fame on script.
Bruce Almighty feels like it could have been the comedy remake of The Man Who Could Work Miracles (1937) that was once promised with Richard Pryor during the 1980s. It has a slim concept – Jim Carrey gets God’s powers and goes around doing miracles. This is about the totality of Bruce Almighty as an idea. Not surprisingly the emphasis is all on Jim Carrey comically wielding godlike powers – humiliating the lead bully of a street gang by making a monkey come out of his ass; embarrassing pompous rival Steve Carell by making him babble on air; increasing the size of girlfriend Jennifer Aniston’s breasts; making his dog pee in the toilet; parting the waves in his soup and then the traffic on the way to work; turning himself into Clint Eastwood.
Most people called Bruce Almighty an amiable return to form for Jim Carrey. While he never goes to some of the wildly over-the-top extremes he does in other films, Bruce Almighty is a glib fantasy. It might have worked on the level of brainless and unchallenging comedic yocks showing Jim Carrey doing godlike things that it was sold as, but it is also infected by Tom Shadyac’s increasing desire to earnestly win people’s hearts as well with his comedy, something that badly dragged down both Shadyac’s Patch Adams (1998) and Dragonfly (2002).
Tacked onto the film is an excruciating ending where Jim Carrey must win back Jennifer Aniston’s love and learn to accept the mediocre life he previously reviled. The forced mania of Carrey’s sincerity in these scenes is as nauseating as it is unconvincing. Half of the problem with this is watching wild and crazy guy Carrey trying to play serious. When Carrey tried to play serious in films like The Truman Show and The Majestic, it came out sickly – with a blandness akin to Robin Williams trying to do cute and mawkish, but where Carrey only came out seeming wimpy. Jim Carrey is best when he is going over the top, but Tom Shadyac keeps sticking him in films like Bruce Almighty and Liar Liar where he must undergo a transformation from zany to nice guy. You feel like you have gone into the film to watch someone go gonzo and over-the-top but by the time you come out, you have watched them reduced to a mushy marshmallow. Not to mention the fact that there does seem something ever so slightly bogus about an actor playing someone with godlike powers learning to accept the humble and unexciting life – and getting paid $20 million to do so.
If it hadn’t tried to take itself seriously and emotionally affect us, Bruce Almighty would be a less hypocritical film. Expectedly, it is of zero theological depth – indeed the God portrayed here is so ecumenically vague that the film can manage to equally appeal to Christian and Jewish faiths without standing on either’s toes. One of the earlier drafts of the script must have had a potentially intriguing theme that questioned the effects that Jim Carrey’s indiscriminate use of miraculous powers would entail – his tugging the Moon out of orbit for romantic purposes causing tidal devastation, his granting everybody their wishes having several million Lotto winners with each getting $17 and riots ensuing. Having raised these issues, the film then does absolutely nothing to depict how they might be remedied. It is a film not interested in the beneficent side of godlike powers, the responsibility such entails, or even of doing good with them, only in the inane comedic purposes they can be put to.
Indeed, Jim Carrey’s whining at God and blaming him about his mediocre life seems an entirely self-centred one – surely people who have had their lives ravaged by flood or destroyed in the riots, indeed the homeless man that turns up throughout, have far more legitimate complaint than one newscaster with a small-breasted wife who failed to get the promotion he expected? The message that Morgan Freeman’s God eventually offers – “you want to see the miracle, be the miracle” – shows that the religion proffered here is merely a variant on the good old American one of self-earned destiny and self-sufficiency and surely something that only seems unfeeling in the circumstances.
Too many of these wish fulfilment fantasies are glib messages about people accepting second place in life in the disguise of homilies about ignoring the things that are under their nose. Bruce Almighty not only parades the ordinary life with sickly regard, it does it in an entirely self-centred way that avoids responsibility for feeling about anybody else in the wider world. It is a whiny and self-indulgent film. I hated it.
Tom Shadyac directed a sequel Evan Almighty (2007) with Morgan Freeman returning as God and Jim Carrey replaced by Steve Carrell.
(No. 5 on the SF, Horror & Fantasy Box-Office Top 10 of 2003 list).