On Screen

Divine Carrey Propels 'Bruce Almighty'

By Michael O'Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 23, 2003


Yes, I know he plays God, or at least a guy who has been temporarily given God's powers in the mightily funny "Bruce Almighty," but that's not what I'm talking about.

Among his many miracles (including a limberness almost unheard of in a 41-year-old man) is Carrey's ability to turn -- how shall I put this? -- manure into gold. He is so gifted a physical comedian that even mediocre material shines in his talented hands, not to mention his talented feet, face, elbows, ears, hair and, ahem, derriere.

This is not to say that "Bruce Almighty," a film by Tom Shadyac about a goofball television reporter in Buffalo named Bruce Nolan (Carrey) who just can't seem to get ahead until God (Morgan Freeman) lets him borrow his gifts, has less than a good script. The premise of screenwriters Steve Koren, Mark O'Keefe and Steve Oedekerk, who squeeze every laugh they can out of what is essentially a single joke -- Carrey as the world's most powerful magician -- may be a tad attenuated and the resolution a tad syrupy, but as raw material it's fine. What makes "Bruce Almighty" great is what Carrey does with fine.

Who else could deliver the simple line "It's good" -- a banal utterance that becomes a kind of catchphrase for the hapless Bruce, who initially uses his God-given skills to right a few of the injustices he feels he has suffered at the hands of his inferiors -- and bend, tweak and stretch it into so many different sonic shapes? And why would we want to listen to him if it weren't sublimely, deliriously silly?

Carrey's malleable mouth is put to equally good use when he sabotages the newscast of his chief competitor (Steven Carell), a reporter who has beaten out Bruce for the anchor position, by literally putting words, or rather Tourette's-style gibberish and profanity, into his rival's mouth. It's hard to know who -- Carrey or Carell -- is better at flapping his lips while holding the rest of his face in frozen deadpan.

Other fabulous set pieces include a scene in which Bruce parts the Red Sea, except here it's a bowl of tomato soup.

Of course, all this comic brilliance must come to an end, so Koren, O'Keefe and Oedekerk give our hero a serious problem. First, some of these acts of Bruce start backfiring. Riots ensue, for instance, when the myriad lottery players whose prayers Bruce has decided to answer collect their paltry winnings, about $17 a piece. But the main dramatic tension comes when Bruce's girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Aniston) breaks up with him as a result of his God-size ego.

Both are opportunities for him (and us) to learn something about the real meaning of prayer and altruism and how with power comes responsibility. It's not exactly the heaviest epiphany in the world, but anything more profound might rob the film of its effervescence.

In the end, "Bruce Almighty's" homilies about faith and the divine in each of us add negligible ballast to its buoyant belly laughs. As Grace tells Bruce, in an effort to buck up his spirits about being a local TV news clown in a dead-end job, "There's nothing wrong with making people laugh."

Amen to that.

"BRUCE ALMIGHTY" (PG-13, 94 minutes) -- Contains obscenity, slapstick violence and sexual and excretory humor. Area theaters.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company