Cinema Signal:

God in the Movies:
A Sociological Investigation

. "Bruce Almighty"

One thing you can say about Morgan Freeman is that he can take care of himself on anyone's literary terrain even, when it comes to the heavens above. With total aplomb and capability, he was a preacher on the run in the dark melodrama, "Levity", a slightly out-of-control commanding officer in "Dreamcatcher" and, now, a very relaxed, tongue-in-cheek comedic god. And that's just this year!

Jim Carrey, on the other hand, plays an altogether different hand, molds his material to his patented style of exaggeration and it's pretty much the same thing over and over. Evaluating one of his films is a matter of placing it on his personal scale of effectiveness in bringing out the laugh and enjoying the character. Alas, "Bruce Almighty" is not "The Truman Show." But, nor is it "The Cable Guy."

Here, he's Bruce Nolan, field reporter for a Buffalo TV station with a great desire to become an anchor man. When he loses out to a competitor, he goes whacko on camera, forfeits his job, and finds himself looking for work in a clinically spotless warehouse where a white-suited guy (Morgan Freeman) is mopping the already polished floor. It turns out that this little meeting is not coincidental. It's a matter of divine destiny.

For some clinically obscure reason that only a Hollywood writer would understand, Bruce's failings have become a matter of concern and comedy for the supreme being, which the white-suited guy is. God, in other words. And God is aware of how thoroughly narcissistic and self-absorbed Bruce is. God knows how selfishly Bruce treats his girlfriend Grace Connelly (an overpowered Jennifer Anniston) while professing his love for her. What Bruce calls love we recognize as emotional desolation. When we see the patience with which she reacts to his exaggerated egomania, we realize we're in the Carrey dimension of suspended disbelief.

So, the premise here is to redeem the unredeemable, giving Carrey another shot at restoring his wavery comic standing after several boxoffice defeats ("The Majestic", "Me, Myself & Irene"). But the infantile level of his actions strains that possibility and puts to rest any hope of achieving sympathy for the notion of celestial interference as an avenue to self-improvement. An "It's a Wonderful Life" of 1946 -- which it seems to have as a model -- it's not. Yes, there are a few unavoidable yocks in his routine, appealing mostly to the juvenile funnybone. But, the message these filmmakers (director Tom Shadyac, writers Steve Koren and Mark O'Keefe) seem to have been headed for -- humility through wish fulfillment -- is too mocked up with a supposed sympathy for the character than that which we discover on screen.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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Morgan Freeman and Jim Carrey

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