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'Bruce Almighty'

Jim Carrey stars in a fairly divine comedy

Friday, May 23, 2003

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

Jim Carrey has played his share of split personalities: the nebbish cop turned aggressive maniac in "Me, Myself and Irene," Andy Kaufman and his alter ego, Tony Clifton, in "Man on the Moon," mild-mannered bank teller and larger-than-life superhero in "The Mask." Even his character in "The Truman Show" led two lives -- what he thought was reality, which turned out to be a manufactured existence.


RATING: PG-13 for language, sexual content and some crude humor..

STARRING: Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman.

DIRECTOR: Tom Shadyac.


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His new movie, "Bruce Almighty," has a split personality of its own -- and also provides Carrey with yet another secret identity.

His character, Bruce Nolan, is a frustrated TV reporter who always complains about never catching a break -- until he is summoned by God (Morgan Freeman), who invests him with omnipotence. Bruce can do whatever God can do. He struts down the street mouthing the lyric, "I've got the power!" So what will Bruce do with it?

You can answer the question even if you haven't seen the trailers. This is Jim Carrey. He will mug and gallop and preen and get that maniacal gleam in his eye in search of the nearest china shop.

He will turn into a leering wolf with his live-in girlfriend, Grace (Jennifer Aniston), who finds out the meaning of divine sex. He will take revenge on his rivals at the station and others who have crossed him. He will literally play God and grant everyone's prayers simultaneously, which leads to havoc. And he will continue to miss the point -- until it literally slams into him.

Because for all of its manic moments, "Bruce Almighty" isn't that much of a laughing matter. To put it bluntly, Bruce is a jerk. He never looks beyond his own wants and needs. He blames everyone else, including God, for his own failings. He wants more, not realizing how much he's got.

To quote the Beatles, isn't he a bit like you and me?

So, on the one hand, we have Bruce using the powers of God in vain, or at least for the purposes of his own vanity. Some of these scenes will have you laughing even as you ponder the notion of the filmmakers burning in hell. There is enough sexual innuendo and literal bathroom humor to push the PG-13 envelope.

And yet "Bruce Almighty" is one of the rare Hollywood movies to ask some of the Big Questions with enough credence to annoy those who came for a straight Carrey comedy or who bristle at any reference to God that is not cynical, mocking or irreverent.

Oh, yeah, "Bruce Almighty" is irreverent. Or should I say that Bruce Nolan is irreverent. Freeman gives God a sense of humor but doesn't strip him of his dignity. Grace, who is rather obviously named, is not without sin but certainly doesn't go around casting stones, like Bruce does.

In short, the movie is about Bruce's salvation, the one thing he can't achieve with God's power -- he has to work that out himself.

Director Tom Shadyac worked with Carrey on the first "Ace Ventura" movie and also on "Liar Liar," which may be the actor's most consistent comedy -- about the misadventures of a lawyer who finds he cannot fudge the truth for 24 hours. "Bruce Almighty" has echoes of that movie and also of "The Truman Show" (as if the man who doesn't know he's being directed suddenly becomes the director).

Shadyac also directed Robin Williams in "Patch Adams," an interminable movie about an unorthodox doctor who browbeats anyone who disagrees with him. "Bruce Almighty" makes the wise choice of dividing that fellow into two parts -- the jerk (Bruce) and the inspirational (God).

This is also the director who directed Kevin Costner in "Dragonfly," which dealt with the spiritual journey of an arrogant, angry doctor whose wife died helping the sick and poor in South America.

Shadyac is obviously searching for deeper meaning in an arena where box-office returns are considered the only true holy writ. "Bruce Almighty" enlists one of the biggest box-office stars on his mission. The movie's contradictions may make your head swim. But they may also be the reason "Bruce Almighty" doesn't evaporate from your consciousness five minutes after you see it.

Ron Weiskind can be reached at rweiskind@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1581.

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