10 November 2010

Retro Review: Bruce Almighty (2003)


Bruce Almighty
2003, 101mins, PG-13
Director: Tom Shadyac
Writer (s): Steve Koren, Mark O'Keefe, Steve Oedekerk
Cast includes: Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Steve Carell, Philip Baker Hall, Morgan Freeman

UK Release Date: 27th June 2003

Is “Bruce Almighty” the best Jim Carrey film ever? I’ll answer that with a resounding no. The manic comic has been responsible for some of the funniest films of the last 20 years (“Ace Ventura Pet Detective”, “Liar Liar”), and has handed in some of the sharpest dramatic turns of any recent Hollywood superstar (“The Truman Show”, “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”), so 2003’s uneven “Bruce Almighty” doesn’t exactly rank as one of his most memorable. Taking a high concept premise (not an unusual occurrence in Carrey’s career), “Almighty” imagines a world in which God endows his power on a mere mortal, and when said mortal is Jim Carrey you know it’s going to be a stupendously silly time.

Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is a struggling reporter, constantly handed fluff pieces whilst other TV staff are granted the material which wins you Pulitzer prizes. After a particularly hideous day sees Bruce fired, the put upon journalist blames God for his misfortune, thus accidently conjuring up a meeting with the Almighty (Morgan Freeman). God gives Bruce his divine abilities temporarily, allowing Bruce to see the strains that being the ultimate creator can produce. However the newly empowered man simply goes about bettering his own life, something that eventually puts a strain on his girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Aniston), and leaves Bruce with a major headache as the prayers of the world go unanswered.

“Bruce Almighty” is two thirds of a really enjoyable comedy, the final act being the disappointing section that lets the entire enterprise down. Director Tom Shadyac (who oversaw the first Ace Ventura flick and “Liar Liar”) keeps a solid energy throughout, but bungles the climax in a heap of sentimentality and schmaltz. The filmmaker has been guilty of overindulging his tearjerker tendencies in the past, 1998’s vile “Patch Adams” being the key example, but at least with that movie there was nothing to ruin. “Patch Adams” was awful from start to finish; “Bruce Almighty” on the other hand has solidly crafted opening and middle sections to undermine.

Carrey balances his inspired lunacy nicely with some lower key dramatic stuff, forcing the movie to raise its game simply through his momentous presence. The relationship with Jennifer Aniston is so-so, the two performers connecting effectively, but struggling to overcome an underwritten romantic dynamic. Aniston is her usual likeable self, and for most of the picture Carrey has no trouble sourcing giggles and smirks from the central concept. His trademark enthusiasm is evident from the first frame and some of the facial gymnastics and impressions he deploys hark back delightfully to the brilliance of Ace Ventura. As God Freeman is exceptionally well cast (his reprisal of the role would later be one of only few bright spots in this film’s unnecessary and Carrey-less sequel “Evan Almighty”), bringing a pathos and wisdom to his depiction of the ultimate being that adds a touch of class to proceedings. Finally a pre-stardom Steve Carell also impresses, playing a snarky newsroom competitor. A sequence involving Carell and some choice teleprompter interference from Carrey is amongst the best this feature has to offer, and showcases just how physically astute and creative a performer Carell can be.

“Bruce Almighty” should have no trouble keeping punters entertained for the majority of its duration, the screenplay combining scatological and irreverent sensibilities with the fertile premise to neat effect. Not every gag works, and some are simply too easy, but on the whole this is a picture primed with belly laughs. Well until the final 25 minutes that is. As Shadyac starts to ply his thick coat of saccharine moralizing on the product he begins to choke its comedic pulse, loosing focus on the religious lampooning, instead becoming preoccupied with the mundane relationship between Carrey and Aniston. The film hits its nadir right at the end, overfilling its sappy glass with sickly sweet moments including a teary and praying Grace, or indeed the very last sequence which overcompensates frantically with a tone of nauseatingly artificial cheer. Before these things start to dominate, “Bruce Almighty” is an excellent studio comedy, but after sitting through them it’s hard to see the film as anything more than a serviceable outing for its talented lead.

It doesn’t feel like seven years since this film’s release, “Bruce Almighty” sparked a healthy box-office take back in the summer of 2003. Some might argue that this was the last live action Carrey picture to deliver truly blockbusting numbers, a combination of odder career choices (“The Number 27”, this year’s fabulous “I Love you Phillip Morris”) and weaker comedies (2005’s mediocre “Fun with Dick and Jane” being a good example) having dimmed the thespian’s financial pulling power. The era of the movie star is now in decline, meaning that Carrey might be remembered alongside the likes of George Clooney, Julia Roberts and Will Smith as the last of this dying breed. “Bruce Almighty” probably won’t be heralded as one of his calling cards in the future, but on the whole it’s a flawed yet moderately diverting effort.

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2010


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