The American people have spoken and, as usual, what they have to say has me contemplating a slow dance in the middle of the interstate. Having made over $80 million in its first week, Bruce Almighty has already established itself as a certifiable hit; a blockbuster that will put Jim Carrey back on the road to success after underwhelming audiences with a string of more “serious” roles. And, if this is what the American people believe is a welcome return to form for Carrey, I can now fully understand why this same demented group of lost souls saw fit to reject a far superior film like Man on the Moon. Had Carrey pranced about like a madman, licking shit from the cracks of slobbering rhinos, while spewing vomit onto the laps of wincing grandmothers, I might have understood the glowing reception. After all, Carrey made his name as a rubber-faced doofus who would do anything for a laugh. But with his latest, perhaps most disappointing film, Carrey has done the impossible — he has captured the wallets of the public with a film that is completely devoid of laughs and so horrifically sweet and sentimental that it manages to upstage The Majestic in its sap quotient. Since the film is not funny in the least, I am scratching my head in wonder at the readiness of the moviegoing public to proclaim this as Carrey’s “redemption.”
But enough of the niceities. Bruce Almighty would have been merely forgettable had it simply let me down in the laughs department. I would have shrugged, softly cursed Carrey for taking the money and running (again), but would have gone to sleep without another thought. Instead, I am furious. Fucking furious. Let’s face it: I am as angry as I have ever been after a film, not because of incompetence, but rather because this film must (and will) stand as one of the most religious films in the history of the screen. Hell, it makes The Greatest Story Ever Told seem like a documentary about Annabel Chong. Without having expected it, I was forced to endure a film that both Orrin Hatch and the Pope would enjoy; a film so gung-ho about the power of God and the redemptive power of His love that I felt violated. I’m talking Father Tom and the altar boy-style violation. Given my rock-solid atheism and bitter contempt for anything resembling religious faith, I had no idea this shit was coming. A benign comedy about God with George Burns I can stand. A serious effort to convert me to the power of Christ? Not on your fucking life, Jim.
The story seems ripe for guilty chuckles. Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a vain, self-centered reporter for a Buffalo, New York news station. His greatest ambition is to be lead anchor, and his world comes crashing down when his mean-spirited rival secures the position instead. Enraged, Bruce uses a live spot from Niagara Falls to curse the station and injustice of it all, which of course gets him fired. Sound like a good scene? It would seem that Carrey was made for this sort of thing, but the script blows it. A golden comic opportunity is pissed away, and not for the only time.
Bruce curses God and his rotten luck, setting up a meeting between God (Morgan Freeman, apparently resigned to the fact that that long overdue Oscar will never come) and Bruce. God wants to teach the juvenile Bruce a lesson and let him be God for awhile. Once again, we can imagine the possibilities of Carrey as a god-like figure, but the screenplay can think of nothing more sophisticated than Bruce parting his tomato soup like the Red Sea and him teaching his dog how to use the toilet. When a script is this bankrupt and can’t even find something interesting for a comic talent like Carrey to do, something is amiss with the world of cinema. Of course Bruce finds a way to get back at his hated rival at the station and eventually, he wins the job as anchor. In the process, however, he has alienated his girlfriend Grace (Jennifer Aniston), who expected him to propose at some point in their relationship. And this is where the film turns from merely boring to offensive.
As this is a mainstream American film with the trailer trash, middle-American demographic in mind, Bruce must be taught a lesson that he will never forget. He must experience the loss of his girlfriend, get hit by a truck, ascend to heaven, and hear God say that he will be given another chance because he has decided to pray for Grace’s happiness, even if that means they can’t be together. But back up a second. Just prior to “dying,” Bruce screams out every right-wing Christian’s fantasy line: “I surrender to the power of God!” No irony of humor intended my friends; he really means it. He gives himself over to God because he wants his prayers answered. He has become selfless and has put all his trust in the Almighty. Left Behind or Veggie Tales couldn’t have said it better. By the end, Bruce has returned to his old job as a reporter, insists on doing good deeds for others, and even broadcasts live from a blood drive. He’s cheery, optimistic, and full of warmth. In other words, he’s a juggernaut of self-righteous dullness.
The film also has a convenient out for God that should please religious simpletons everywhere. You see, when Bruce is God, he has power over everything except free will. Even God states that He cannot change that. Of course! Since when was it acceptable for Hollywood to advance the case of religious leaders everywhere that God doesn’t prevent obvious evils because free will must triumph? So much for a liberal Hollywood. Rarely in a film have I seen such a naked attempt to support the notion that all that is good in the world is the result of God’s grace, yet all that is evil is via the will of man — an evil, incidentally, that God is powerless to stop at any time, thus undermining any argument someone might have against God’s benevolence, given that we live in world where illness and tragedy strike children while Tara Reid continues to work. And yet, pray we must, for God is a great teacher and he has inspirational messages in everything he does, even if he will not stop that bus load of orphans and puppy dogs from careening off a cliff into the frigid waters below. God can’t do shit to help us, but damn how he loves us. And people wonder why I’m an atheist. Only human beings could design a supreme being this inane.
And then there’s the portrayal of Buffalo. Listen, I’ve been to that wreck of a city and believe me, it doesn’t look anywhere near what we see in the film. Buffalo is a rusted-out shithole of a sewer; a town that shuts its doors at sundown so that the 55% who are unemployed can drink what remains of their Pabst as they wonder how in the fuck such a ghost town supports both football and hockey. The Buffalo of Bruce Almighty, on the other hand, is bright, colorful, and full of charming, good-hearted people with money to spend and smiles to give. My ass. The crime, sickness, despair, and pain I saw seems to be represented by a single bum, who carries a series of placards that are meant to be deep and enlightening. Only at the end do we realize that this bum was also God, which further lets the city off the hook as it can claim that the only victim of its wretched economy is Jesus himself.
I imagine that no amount of criticism will dissuade readers from seeing this mess, as they love Jim Carrey and evidently, would pay good money to watch him take a shit. The most depressing aspect of all this is that Carrey will see that his bread is buttered by sappy bullshit rather than risky material and we’ll never see the likes of The Truman Show again. Doesn’t it occur to the dolts who run movie studios that some of us might want to see Carrey remain a prick from start to finish? Could there be anything more disheartening than watching a wild card “see the light?” Carrey had better play a child rapist or butcher of kittens soon, or else I just might give up on him.
Special Ruthless Ratings
- Number of minutes I actually thought I might be in for a guilty pleasure: 5
- Number of times I laughed, chuckled, smirked, or guffawed after that initial impression: 0
- Number of times I knew the film was being filmed in Toronto and not Buffalo when I saw clean streets and an absence or sore-ridden crack whores milling around the burnt shell of a Church’s Fried Chicken: 7
- Number of times I thought that God was made a black man to avoid Jesse Jackson’s wrath: 3
- Number of scenes in which Sally Kirkland appears: 3
- Number of times she appears to be a tired, drunken old cow who hasn’t caught a break in well over a decade: 3
- Number of times I realized that I was watching what could very well be the worst film I see this summer: 9
- Number of times I had to pause and reconsider given that I have yet to see the Charlie’s Angels sequel: 9