Is anyone else bothered by Jim Carrey's apparently insatiable need for attention and approval? The comic genius seemed on his way to taking the no-holds-barred approach to fame and fortune back in his television days on In Living Color, and then inhabited a series of nutso roles before giving a mature, brilliant film performance as the man caught in his own schtick in The Truman Show. But aside from that role, Carrey, like fellow actor Robin Williams, has aged gracelessly, relying on his tried-and-true physical comedy routine most of the time while making some serious missteps in his attempt to be taken seriously.
Both actors have proven they can act and both can, by God, do standup comedy. But both seem unwilling to give up either the schtick or the desire for dramatic credibility when choosing film roles. And unfortunately for Carrey, director Tom Shadyac (Liar, Liar) keeps coming up with tailor-made roles for his favorite star that continue to muddy the water.
In Bruce Almighty, Carrey plays an insufferable television reporter who always gets the cutesy stories -- for example the city of Buffalo's largest chocolate chip cookie, baked by a going-out-of-business Polish bakery -- while longing for an anchor job. When he doesn't get the job, he throws a hissy fit on-air and is promptly booted out. True to character, he rants at God, blaming the almighty for his misfortune and his "trivial life."
Meanwhile, his long-suffering, live-in girlfriend (played amiably by Jennifer Aniston who deserves far better than this role) is put off by Bruce's self-centeredness but hangs in there until she can no longer tolerate his highjinks.
When Bruce's luck seems as bad as it can possibly get, in a scene reminiscent of Jimmy Stewart's fateful car crash into the old oak tree in It's A Wonderful Life, he is given an audience with God (Morgan Freeman), who wants to go on vacation and leaves Bruce in charge.
Adolescent prick that he is, Bruce immediately begins settling scores, causing the anchorman who beat him out for the job to jabber unintelligibly on-air and, yuck, a young punk kid to squeeze a monkey out his ass. (Huge laughs ensue; the old monkey-out-the-ass schtick gets 'em every time.)
Bruce Almighty can't decide whether it wants to be off-color or colorful, satirical or moralistic. As Bruce gets deeper into the God business, he has to deal with those pesky folks who pray to him daily -- for a new car, to win the lottery, etc., all naturally in English -- and he is forced to learn something about himself: that his gift of bringing smiles to people is worth far more than the empty fame of being an anchorman.
To reach this conclusion, Bruce must go through an utterly convoluted set of tests. There is little logic to the film's journey to its obvious conclusion, way too many trademark Jim Carrey stunts minus interesting characterization, and far too little screen time for his far-more- interesting co-stars Aniston and Freeman.
Bruce Almighty is basically a self-conscious attempt to make Jim Carrey look like a good guy who can, by golly, make 'em laugh. Maybe he'll wise up like Williams and start looking for roles that defy typecasting, like last year's Insomnia and One-Hour Photo. How about revisiting that creepy cable guy?
-- Kathryn Eastburn