Thursday, May 29, 2003
Tampa, Fla. A lot of mortals who happen to share God's telephone number -- or at least the one He uses in the new movie "Bruce Almighty" -- have spent days now taking calls from curious dialers, snickering cranks and desperate souls.
In the hit movie, a TV newsman played by Jim Carrey is endowed by God with divine powers, allowing him to perform such feats as parting a bowl of tomato soup like the Red Sea. God's phone number is repeatedly displayed on the newsman's pager whenever the Lord tries to summon him.
Usually, movies and TV shows use the telephone exchange 555, which is not used for homes and businesses. But "Bruce Almighty" used a seven-digit number valid in many parts of the country.
Many moviegoers have remembered the number and put it to work in their own area codes.
A woman in Pinellas Park, Fla., has threatened to sue the movie studio because of the 20 calls per hour clogging her cell phone. A Denver radio network was getting dozens a day Wednesday, five days after the movie hit theaters, and planned to build a contest around the phenomenon.
In Sanford, N.C., the listing belongs to a church whose minister is actually named Bruce. And he is not amused.
"It's a movie that mocks God and makes a mockery of religion," said the Rev. Bruce MacInnes, pastor of Turner's Chapel Church. "I'm not too thrilled with it at all. But the Lord God is one that could use something that's meant for evil and turn it around for good. So this may very well be the reason that that number showed up."
Universal Pictures, which produced the film, said in a statement Wednesday that the phone number was chosen because it did not exist in the Buffalo, N.Y., area, where the movie was set. The studio offered no further comment.
A database search turned up more than 30 listings nationwide for the number in the movie.
In Cornelia, Ga., the number belongs to the Rev. Patrick Collington, an evangelist who runs Souls for Christ Ministries. His wife, Tracy, said they had gotten about 100 calls since Friday -- mostly people asking for God and hanging up -- but they were not bothered.
The family went to see the movie Tuesday night and loved it.
"It was funny, and knowing God's phone number was our number was really something to be excited about," she said.
Donna Augustin of Parrish, Fla., said her family had received about 200 God calls since Friday. Her three children think it is hilarious, she said. A new message on their answering machine informs callers that they have reached "God's messenger" and should "call Jim Carrey" instead.
Some callers of the Augustin home leave messages ranging from sweet to obscene. Most try to come up with something funny. One guy wanted to know when God would answer his prayers and make him a porn star.
In Denver, the Colorado Radio Network's nine lines started lighting up Monday with God callers, a good number of whom actually seemed to think they found a direct line to the Lord, according to Ron Nickel, the network's senior vice president.
"God, I really need to talk to you," one woman said in a message. "I need to repent because I've cheated on my husband five times, but I guess all of us people who are prostitutes eventually cheat on our husbands."
Nickel said the network of five stations planned to turn the whole thing into a contest. Listeners will be asked what they would say to God if they could call him. The host of the stations' only religious show will pick the winner.
"This just dropped right out of the sky into our lap," Nickel said. "We would have to be stupid to get angry."