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Friday, May 23, 2003 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

Jim Carrey shows off what he does best in 'Bruce Almighty'

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review


**
"Bruce Almighty," with Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Baker Hall, Catherine Bell, Lisa Ann Walter. Directed by Tom Shadyac, from a screenplay by Steve Koren, Mark O'Keefe, and Steve Oedekerk. 100 minutes. Rated PG-13 for language, sexual content, and some crude humor. Several theaters.

There's the seed of a brilliant idea lurking in the disappointingly bland comedy "Bruce Almighty": Jim Carrey, at his best, has always verged on the demonic. Consider those gleefully sparkling eyes, the weirdly twisted expressions, the pointy-toothed smile so huge it could illuminate any "Matrix" set — you can practically see the tail and horns.

Casting him as a regular guy who inherits God's powers (the Almighty, we learn in the movie, is in need of a vacation, and you certainly can't blame Him for that) seemed, dare I say it, heaven-sent.

And sure enough, the best moments in "Bruce Almighty" are when Carrey lets his inner scariness loose. Strutting down the street after his fateful meeting with God, his gangly arms and legs each seemingly following choreography of its own, he's got an almost electric charge. Bruce Nolan, a whiny, lowly television reporter unhappy with his life and luck, is transformed, and he's so thrilled with his new abilities that he's perversely charming.

But, before we start having too much fun with Bruce's new powers (in a flash, his dog is using the toilet, his girlfriend goes up a bra size, and his arch rival at work develops a mysterious on-air speech impediment), "Bruce Almighty" finds its gooey center. Director Tom Shadyac, who's recently dragged Kevin Costner ("Dragonfly") and Robin Williams ("Patch Adams") through fields of schmaltz, stops the movie cold, about an hour in, so Bruce can learn a Life Lesson: namely, that he just wants to be loved.

And the film, particularly in its first and last third, seems sadly devoid of imagination. We don't even see most of Bruce's first day as God's stand-in; he strolls around a bit, and suddenly it's night. With a story line like this, the possibilities are endless — couldn't the writers think of anything?

In general, the screenplay is a mess; you can see the outline of a funny movie (and some nice lines; upon meeting God, Bruce says, "Uh, thank you for the Grand Canyon"), but it's as if somebody laboriously went through and inserted booger and bathroom jokes, and then somebody else spread a layer of treacle on top of it.

Casting Morgan Freeman as God seems inspired (with George Burns gone, who would be a better candidate?), and it's nice to see Freeman having some cackling fun with the role, but he keeps disappearing from the movie. Jennifer Aniston, as Bruce's angelic girlfriend Grace, has even less to do; the dog gets more funny lines than she does.

But they're just sideline characters; this is Carrey's movie, and in his over-the-top scenes, he makes it far more watchable than it deserves to be. When Bruce, early in the film, frets that he's being dismissed as a funnyman, it's hard not to think of Carrey's own career.

He's a brilliantly gifted comic performer, but he's not really an actor — perhaps because he's spent so many years doing larger-than-life comedy, he tends to announce every line, and at worst (as in the disastrous "The Majestic") he disappears into a sort of loud blandness. (Peter Weir's "The Truman Show" was perfectly crafted to Carrey's style; it didn't make him a better actor, but showed what a skilled director can do for him. Paul Thomas Anderson did much the same for Adam Sandler in "Punch-Drunk Love.")

In "Bruce Almighty" he shows off what he does best, and then it gets yanked away from him in favor of twinkly goodness. "Nothing wrong with making people laugh," says a character early in the movie. Pity Shadyac didn't listen.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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