Praise the Lord! Jim Carrey is back. One of the most "love him or hate him" actors around, Carrey makes his own rules with acting, and the first rule is -- there are no rules.
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Bursting onto the mainstream with Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Jim Carrey found himself a mass following. It was inevitable from then on that every movie he was a part of guaranteed to reel in the cash by the millions. In most cases, by the ten millions. Ace Ventura 2, The Cable Guy, Dumb & Dumber, The Mask, Liar Liar, and Me, Myself & Irene all relied on Carrey's outlandish (and sometimes, bordering on the insane) comedic flair.
Things changed though, when Carrey opted to broaden his horizons by taking on more serious roles in The Truman Show, Man On The Moon and The Majestic. Some thought we would never see the funny Jim Carrey again. And now, ladies and gentlemen, here he is.
Really, it is a more than Jim that makes Bruce Almighty such a pleasant little film. It is a lot of things.
Morgan Freeman for one thing. He has got to be one of the five greatest actors on the planet right now. I don't know a whole lot about our Father who art in Heaven (and who does, really), but when an actor can play Him and actually be convincing, that's remarkable. After his roles in High Crimes or Dreamcatcher, it is a delight to see him don a janitor suit and mop the floors in a sterilized white building. Freeman injects his integrity and charisma into the Higher Power, leaving me no choice but to say that, yes, He does work in mysterious ways.
Jim Carrey is, as I mentioned before, funny and charismatic in his own way, but much of the insanity has been toned down. Bruce Nolan comes off as a genuinely believable character, miffed by his bad luck but not going into spastic dances and singing opera (okay, maybe a little bit). The experience of playing more serious characters like Truman Burbank and Andy Kaufman shows here. This may just be his best "funny performance" since Liar Liar. But in many ways, this movie reminds me more of The Mask than anything else. (Must be the dog.)
Jennifer Aniston may seem a little "Friends-y" for the role of his wife, but she's decent enough. She has a few moments (especially later in the movie) that are a little over the top. Otherwise, she generates the same kind of feel in Bruce's family that Maura Tierney did in Liar Liar, a happy but slightly frustrated girlfriend waiting to "settle down". In one scene, she gets "smitten" with pleasure by her husband after he gains God's power. Not surprisingly, Jenny pulled that one off deftly. I actually dug the hair, too.
Bruce Almighty takes a positive cliche of a message, and delivers it in a positively cliche manner. But the movie is surprisingly "good at it", in the same way that someone might be good at singing a love song, or sacking the quarterback, two of the most cliche things to do in America. When someone's good at it, it doesn't matter if it's a cliche. When Bruce takes the mike, walks toward the screen and he says, "So remember, be the miracle!", it is predictable, but gratifying. When Bruce, having been endowed with God's powers, asks God "How do you make someone love you without changing free will?" you actually wonder. Watch for Bruce's prayer -- now that's a heartstring tugger.
Of course, you might be one to worry that the movie is going to be preachy. Well, perish the thought! The movie's not here to make people believe in God, it's just here to make people appreciate Him, for whatever He is. Somehow, it remains a pretty down-to-Earth approach to the subject. Bruce asks for a sign, he gets one, he ignores it, he gets another one, he ignores it, he gets in trouble, he blames God. If you have ever wondered why God won't send you the winning lottery numbers, well, Bruce Almighty takes the obvious answer and sheds a little light on it. If you still don't see why, you're even crazier than I am.
"You did all that in a day?"
"Imagine what I could do with seven."
Punchlines are the flavor of the moment, and Bruce Almighty doesn't pull any punches. Even the movie Titanic is not safe. The funniest moment is hands down the revenge exacted by Bruce upon his competitive co-worker, Evan Baxter (Steven Carell). You don't know how bad I wanna spoil what he says, but I'll hold back the waters.
Some of the humor is pretty crude -- a monkey coming out of a gangster's bunghole (and worse yet, climbing back in) is about the pinnacle of it. While kids are growing up faster nowadays than many of us did, I know my parents wouldn't have let me watch this until I was at least 13. Some other things may spook the kids out a little bit, from a meteor crash to the exhuming of a dead body buried in an unexpected spot. (Guess who!) But perhaps the most disturbing reason that you should leave the kids at home is that you can't afford the lawyer to sue Hollywood when your kid drowns after trying to walk across the deep end of the pool.
Why not five stars? I don't know. I don't like to give five stars to just anything. This is not nearly as funny as a lot of Carrey's previous stuff, but if it were, it would not have made the movie better. With a running time of just a little over 90 minutes, there was plenty of time to explore the subject matter deeper. I love the funny scenes, but to me the best parts were when Bruce and God talked alone about the duties of God's job, the difficulties, what to do, what not to do, and so on. There are countless ways they could have gone with it, especially with Bruce answering "Yes" to all the prayers. Suppose someone prayed for their boss to die? Would that prayer have been answered? Bruce's darkest hour is him saying "What am I supposed to do?" and it ends up that he doesn't have to do anything. So in a halfhearted and jumbled mess, that's why no five stars.
What is God?
Since the movie has sparked so much debate about God vs. Science, Christianity vs. atheism, evolution vs. Creation, etc... I'll just tell you right now what God is -- He is an influence. How's that? Once they come up with a scientific formula that can explain exactly how the image of say, a lover crying, projected from the eyes to the brain, causes a chemical reaction in the brain, I've no choice but to attribute the feeling to something else. Something that can't be explained. Something that, to deny its existence would be inhuman. That Something is the reason I'm still here. That's what God is to me.
Thy will be done. See this movie!
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