In Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey, once again gamely playing a powerless schmuck for the first reel, gets the power of God. It’s not specifically what he asked for; cursing the Creator over a particularly bad day (humiliated during his flunky comic-relief-TV-reporter job, fired, beaten up, etc.), Carrey just wants to know why God hates him so. It’s the suffering of Job reloaded for the media age (will many Americans sympathize with the angst of a presumably well-paid TV personality?), and God, in the person of Morgan Freeman, calls Carrey to Him and offers him a job. “I’m going on vacation,” God says, blithely leaving the universe in Carrey’s jittery hands. The message is clear: If you think being God is easy, you try it.
Bruce Almighty is interesting only insofar as it proposes God as a basically well-meaning if remote deity, not the maddening Shaper who drove William Blake to wonder if the same God made the lamb and the tiger. Fundamentalists whose noses are forever tilted for the scent of sacrilege won’t find much in the movie to object to. Morgan Freeman, for instance, embodies God as a hip update of George Burns’ avuncular, amused Lord in Oh, God. Both actors are a stroke of casting wit, but a wilder, funnier movie might’ve given us, say, Danny DeVito or a tipsy, irritable Eddie Izzard as God (heck, we’ve already had Keanu Reeves as both Buddha and a neo-Christ, no pun intended).
Essentially, this is another of Jim Carrey’s surefire vehicles that can be whittled down to a phrase: Jim Carrey is the Grinch; Jim Carrey is God. I like the guy, and I wish his box-office failures with The Majestic (understandable — that was a stiff) and Man on the Moon (I had the poster hanging on my wall for years) hadn’t scared him into such bland, unchallenging material. What would Jim Carrey do if given ultimate power? The question provokes a grin of anticipation, but he pretty much does what you see him do in the trailer. There is one spectacularly funny bit when he sabotages the newscast of snotty rival Steve Carell, but the big laughs in the scene belong to Carell, not Carrey.
The movie seems squarely aimed at a large audience (check the opening-weekend figures) that might be wondering, in these harrowing times, if God knows what He’s doing. Bruce Almighty is here to reassure doubters and put them in their place at the same time. The godlike Carrey fritters away his power and can’t even hold onto his girlfriend of five years (Jennifer Aniston, being a good sport). Only God, the movie says, knows how to use the power, and He uses it mostly by not using it: “You all have the power,” He lectures Carrey. What should be a wild, unruly, possibly sacrilegious fable — think Life of Brian — becomes a didactic companion piece to The Truman Show, with Carrey as hapless puppeteer instead of hapless puppet. And it says essentially the same (humanist) thing: Take your life into your own hands.
Carrey does get off some good riffs, mostly in his pre-God fits of pique; I enjoyed his obscene jazz-pantomime gesture, destined to be copied by giggling kids from shore to shore. The subtext, though, shows us a man with the power of God who’s still insecure and, as the movie spells out, wants to be loved. Carrey, who’s been the closest thing to God studio executives have seen since the canonization of Tom Cruise, may agree with some of us that he’s not using his powers to their full potential, and this material — which could’ve been played by anyone, really — is Exhibit A. But its box-office returns will be hard to argue with.