Thursday, May 22, 2003
What if God was one of us
Just a slob like one of us
Finally, there's an answer to the lyrics posed in Joan Osborne's annoying song "One of Us." And star Jim Carrey is the one to thank/blame.
Other recent movies have featured the Lord as a character - "Dogma," the "Oh, God!" trilogy - but this is the first where a character inherits the powers of the deity.
Bruce Almighty ** 1/2
Hollywood takes another shot at envisioning God, this time portrayed by Morgan Freeman, who temporarily loans a TV reporter (Jim Carrey) His powers. The movie has some undeniably funny moments (especially two on-air meltdowns) before it spirals into a routine "guy loses girl but wins her back" melodrama.
As with most roles, Carrey is up to the task. What actor wouldn't enjoy playing God?
The resulting "Bruce Almighty" is consistently amusing, if not promptly forgettable."God, why do you hate me?" TV features reporter Bruce Nolan (Carrey) asks in the film's opening.
Bruce is saddled with frothy fare such as reporting on the city's largest cookie and the winner of the Mark Twain Chili Cookoff. But the journalist wants to become the head anchor at his Buffalo, N.Y., station.
When the coveted gig goes to a smarmy rival (Steven Carell), Bruce has an on-air meltdown. This turns out to be just the start of a really bad day. After a fight with his live-in girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Aniston), the reporter begins directing his anger at the man upstairs.
"God is a mean kid sitting on an ant hill with a magnifying glass ... and I'm the ant," he vents.
So God (Morgan Freeman) calls Bruce to his office - a warehouse complex called Omni Presents - and offers the man the job while He goes on vacation. There are only two rules:
1. You can't tell anyone you're God.
2. You can't mess with free will.
Before long, Bruce is struggling with the joys of his newfound power and the repercussions and expectations that go along with it.
Carrey, as always, brings a tremendous amount of manic enthusiasm to the role. This is one actor who can never be accused of just showing up and going through the motions. The star relishes moments in which he gradually comes to the realization that he does indeed have divine powers. This is highlighted by a scene at a diner in which he majestically parts a bowl of tomato soup like the Red Sea.
As usual, Freeman provides a tone of relaxed gravity to the authority figures he customarily plays. His intrinsic calmness works well in scenes opposite Carrey. Although he's not on screen all that much, Freeman helps ground the film's star and keep him from descending into "Ace Ventura"-style loopiness.
In some ways, though, the cast members are just accessories in a film that hinges on such an intriguing basic setup. (Heck, singer John Denver was the lead in "Oh, God!" and even he didn't screw up that classic comedy.) Writers Steve Koren and Mark O'Keefe have little trouble crafting can't-miss scenes (the empowered Bruce's on-air revenge toward his reporter rival) and adding bizarre pop culture touches (the body in the park).
Still, the film's ultimate shortcomings lie with the script. After the initial sense of wonder that Bruce (and the audience) encounters from confronting God and borrowing his powers, the picture turns into a routine "guy loses girl but wins her back" melodrama.
Sure, the movie's theme revolves around how a man's heavenly experience teaches him earthly lessons. But most of the moral quandaries Bruce encounters could just as easily be solved by watching an episode of "Dr. Phil."
Also, the plot seems to forget certain details that it spent time setting up. Early on, Bruce's tactics for romantically impressing Grace are shown to have global consequences. These are summarily dropped in order to concentrate on the narrow concerns of the romantic leads.
And come on, can the filmmakers (which include "Liar Liar" director Tom Shadyac) have handled the idea of how a city reacts to its hockey team winning the Stanley Cup more sloppily? It's almost treated as an afterthought by the Buffalo news station, while it's the source of Watts-style riots outside the building.
The biggest letdown, however, is that God's presence in "Bruce Almighty" is just so ... ordinary. Yes, there are some witty lines delivered by a fine veteran actor. But cinematically, actually meeting God isn't quite as fascinating as the thought of meeting Him.
Perhaps Joan Osborne knew what she was talking about when she sang, "If God had a face, what would it look like/And would you want to see."