½*/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras B-
starring Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman, Lisa Ann Walter
screenplay by Steve Koren & Mark O'Keefe and Steve Oedekerk
directed by Tom Shadyac
by Walter Chaw There's something blissfully broken about the state of our self-esteem when first The Emperor's Club and now Bruce Almighty come shambling onto the silver screen wearing candy-coloured clothes while stumping subversive messages apropos to never being able to overcome one's shortcomings. And there's something blissfully broken about popular Christianity when within two weeks comes a high profile film about a wooden surfer unifier of nature and machine (Blake's Old and New Testament in The Matrix Reloaded) and this malignant high profile stillbirth, which answers Job's question with, "Let's see if you can do any better"--the one a politically-correct gloss on Christianity as survey movie spirituality, the other a politically-correct--and facile--view of the Christian walk with an entirely unredeemable (and unredeemed) protagonist who plays into our current theocratic leadership's belief that the imitation of Christ includes vengeance and greed.
Bruce (Jim Carrey) is an intensely irritating, constantly mugging television personality so self-obsessed that, once granted omnipotence, he chooses to make his girlfriend's (Jennifer Aniston) breasts larger and a monkey come out of a Hispanic gang-banger's ass. The way that women and Hispanics (a Hispanic woman herein reduced to over-sexed home-wrecker) are treated in this film is shocking but really no surprise given director Tom Shadyac's track record (Dragonfly, Patch Adams) of exploitive, sociologically unforgivable, thematically convenient entertainments. Because Bruce is such a whiny jerk, God (Morgan Freeman) decides to let him decide the fate of Buffalo, since "It's so easy to be God" and all--knowing that because Bruce Almighty is the kind of movie that it is, it's only a matter of time before Bruce realizes that it's not all about him, that it's not easy being God, and that he needs to treat his woman right.
The film doesn't have one interesting thing to say about Christianity, its view of the religion as shallow as the painted pronouncements of "The 700 Club" and equally as exclusionary. In the world of Bruce Almighty, everyone is split along the lines of anti-Bruce and pro-Bruce. Allegory for a certain Christian-paranoia in the United States? Perhaps, but the overriding effect is one of Bruce Almighty adhering to the romantic comedy formula with a sickening dose of abhorrent sanctimony despite the picture's proclamations of the sanctity of free will. Morgan Freeman continues to tread water, reciting a speech at one point in which he extols the value of manual labour; the irony of it is that he hasn't done any heavy lifting since Se7en.
The picture is less Oh, God! than Dear God, after all--a broad morality play played to the tuppence rabble that earns its half-star for a moment where Steven Carell (late of "The Daily Show") goes nuts on live television. The rest of the thing is just garbage of The Majestic variety, another weird attempt by Carrey to do a Frank Capra film (in The Majestic, an It's a Wonderful Life poster was displayed in a theatre lobby; here the picture itself is playing on television in a key scene), except this time without any pretense that he'll rein it in even for a fraction of a moment. It's a play for the high and the low, in other words, a movie where a pissing dog is the only character that grows as a person--where the final message of the film are the shockers that there's a difference between men and gods and that real decisions can't actually be made without God (contradicting the picture's God directly, as it happens).
And yet the most disturbing aspect of this groaner is the idea that in order to teach this asshole a lesson about being an asshole, God allows an entire community to be subjected to a tidal wave, costing lives and homes and a riot to consume a city after it's revealed that thousands of people have won the same lottery. If you buy into this film and its deeply disturbing subtext, the next time a community is torn apart by a twister and platitudes are offered about God's will, understand that it's probably just the Almighty teaching an object lesson to a self-obsessed weather girl in Poughkeepsie in the dangers of being a single-minded jerk. Ah, the blasphemous irony. It's not theology, it's pandering, and you've got to want more than this--not despite, but especially, if you're a Christian.Originally published: May 23, 2003.
by Bill Chambers Given that the cinematographer of Bruce Almighty was no less than Dean Semler (Dances with Wolves), the cheap, TBS look of the film comes as a shock and the jaundiced, indistinct 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen DVD transfer a disappointment--not because it's an inaccurate rendering, but because it's all too accurate. The 5.1 mix, in Dolby Digital and DTS options on the same platter, is loud (particularly in DTS) yet ineffectual, though it does sport a few room-rattling moments, like the lassoing of the moon; as with most comedy soundtracks, it's monophonic in nature for large chunks of the running time. Extras include two audio commentaries from director Tom Shadyac (that's Shady Yak), one for the section of deleted scenes, the other for the feature itself. Shadyac is an unabashed peon to the knee-jerk wisdom of test-screening recruits: this and that were cut for being edgy (such as--shield the eyes of the children!--a scene in which Jennifer Aniston's character demands to know why Bruce bought a mansion), while a couple of jokes were removed for teasing "sacred cows." A bigger sacred cow than, um, God?
Suggesting no one so much as Woody Tobias Jr.'s real-life counterpart, Shadyac says of the aforementioned lover's spat, "Audiences rejected it, as they should"--I think his screen credit should henceforth read "Compromised by Tom Shadyac." The 30-minute block of omitted material is almost worth the price of the disc, however, for the original, deliriously over-the-top conclusion to Steve Carell's on-air breakdown--again elided for its alleged darkness. Shadyac returns in the video featurette "The Process of Jim" (6 mins.), wherein he illustrates Jim Carrey's improvisational methods by way of three so-so examples, while a 7-minute outtakes reel contains a laugh track courtesy of a transparently sycophantic crew. Cast & filmmaker bios and filmos, ROM-enabled weblinks, and Bruce Almighty's theatrical trailer (in DD 5.1) round out the DVD. Fullscreen version sold separately. Originally published: November 25, 2003.