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Yearning to win back the affection of his estranged and disillusioned girlfriend, Bruce Nolan asks for advice for advice from One who ought to know. "How do you get somebody to love you," he sighs, "without messing with that free will thing?"
"Welcome to My world," says God.
It's an amusing and insightful moment from an entertaining movie that's full of such surprising grace notes. Many people of faith will stay away from "Bruce Almighty" because they feel offended by the very idea of the frenetic and rubber-faced funny man Jim Carrey playing God -- especially in the context of a PG-13 movie with a smattering of crude language and some pointlessly raunchy scenes. Nevertheless, even devout moviegoers should acknowledge the good intentions of this clever comedy which, in its own smug and breezy style, raises some intriguing and substantive questions about God's role in the world. Compared to the solemn silliness and pagan pomposity of the over-praised "The Matrix Reloaded," Carrey's "Bruce" looks like a work of unexpected theological integrity.
In his most satisfying role since "The Truman Show," Carrey plays a TV reporter in Buffalo who specializes in folksy human interest stories -- like the local Polish bakery that's created history's largest chocolate chip cookie. He's blessed with a sweet and idealistic live-in girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston), a pleasant apartment, and a faithful dog with bladder control issues, but Bruce feels so consumed by ambition he can't recognize his own good fortune. On the day that he learns that his rival (a slimy twerp nicely played by Steven Carell) has gotten the anchor man job he covets, Carrey humiliates himself on the air, ruins his car, and gets cruelly beaten by arrogant thugs. These disasters receive such broad, slapstick treatment that you can hardly take his suffering seriously, as he drives down a lonely highway, gets out of his car and begins raging against God for the cruelty and chaos He imposes on the world.
In response to this embittered blasphemy, the Lord subtly introduces Himself in the form of a kindly janitor (Morgan Freeman) mopping up a mysterious old building (Omni Presents, Inc.) in a desolate section of downtown. The casting represents an unprecedented coup: Freeman brings to the Ultimate Role the same sort of wry, world-weary wisdom the late George Burns brought to the "Oh God" movies, but with vastly more dignity and warmth. To teach the heartbroken Bruce a lesson, he allows him to assume Lordly powers, with only two conditions: he can't tell anyone that he's become God, and he can't interfere with anyone's free will.
The film's funniest moments come with the main character's immature experimentation in using Divine authority for his selfish benefit -- getting the TV job he craves, creating natural disasters he can cover as exclusives, transforming his battered clunker into a shiny sports car, splitting his bowl of tomato soup like the Red Sea.
He also begins answering the millions of prayers that he receives through his computer, deciding to provide a blanket "yes" to every request he receives. This means, for instance, that there are suddenly so many thousands of lottery winners in Buffalo alone that the return on each winning ticket amounts to only chump change -- provoking angry riots from the disappointed multitudes. Bruce discovers that any attempt to use his supernatural powers to help one individual may end up causing damage and pain for someone else. He discovers that running the universe may not be as simple as it looks -- a realization that can hardly count as a profound insight, but in the context of the story it comes across with conviction and resonance. In fairness, Bruce takes on only the most superficial of supernatural powers; authentic religious faith teaches that God isn't just omnipotent but also omniscient, and Bruce never knows any more than he did as a palpably flawed human being.
The movie's resolution follows the tradition of Ebenezer Scrooge, George Bailey and other characters transformed for the better through a mystical, dramatic and educational encounter. Along the way, the movie also goes out of its way to endorse the importance of fidelity, marriage, family, kids, service, kindness and even prayer. The director, Tom Shadyac, in the past created such clumsy, witless fare as "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "Patch Adams," but his last movie with Jim Carrey, "Liar Liar" used outrageous comedy to make some decent moral points. In 2002, Shadyac also lovingly directed the finest Kevin Costner film of recent years, "Dragonfly" -- a little seen but touching story of a husband indestructibly connected to his wife's soul after her death. Shadyac's track record hardly qualifies him as a great cinematic exponent of religious or quasi-religious themes, à la Ingmar Bergman, but he does stand out in today's implacably secular Hollywood as a comic talent with an undeniably spiritual streak.
The shallow, slick handling of everything from Buffalo's stereotypical "common folk" to the unconvincingly rendered inner workings of a TV news broadcast, definitely detract from the film's final impact. "Bruce" may not amount to a supernatural triumph, but it fairly qualifies as an "Almighty" surprise. THREE STARS. (Rated PG-13 ? appropriately -- for rude language, sexual references and earthy humor).
© Michael Medved. All rights reserved. Website: MichaelMedved.com
* A crane was blown over by strong winds during shooting. It was reported at the time that Jennifer Aniston, who was standing with her back to the crane, didn't see it toppling towards her but Jim Carrey pushed her out of the way in time to avert a serious accident. Carrey subsequently played down the extent of the peril, and said that the stories were exaggerated. Aniston has since denied that she was even there.
* This film contains many references to previous Jim Carrey films such as: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994) (the monkey, the lines "Alrighty then", "Sissy girl" and saying "Hi-ho silver, away!" as he takes off in a car), Mask, The (1994) (the phone number, an important object being thrown out the window but magically reappearing, Dirty Harry impersonation, and talking to himself in the mirror)
* Instead of a phone number with the unused 555 prefix, a phone number that appears on the pager carried by Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) was an actual phone number in many US area codes, causing owners of that phone number to be bombarded with calls. For the video release this number was changed to 555-0123.
* Jim Carrey often insisted on doing upwards of 30 takes of some scenes.
* The town square is the same location that was used for parts 1 and 2 of the Back to the Future trilogy.
* Eva Mendes was originally cast as Susan Ortega but had to be replaced due to scheduling conflicts
* The picture on the "Mr Exclusive" poster is taken from a promo shot from Liar Liar (1997)
* The supercar driven by Bruce Nolan later in the film is a Saleen S7, this car is often confused with the Mclaren F1.
* This film has been officially banned in Egypt for "sacrilegious content".
* The school scenes were filmed at the same school used in Liar Liar (1997)
* At one point, Jennifer Aniston was shooting this movie, Friends (1994), and Along Came Polly (2004) at the same time.
* When Bruce looks at Grace's prayers some of them can be seen on screen in two shots - all of her prayers and filtered to include only Bruce's. In the first shot, only one of the 21 visible prayers are close to being for Grace's own benefit: "Please Help The Day Care Kids Listen Better". The visible prayers in the first shot are:
- Please Watch Over My Sister
- Please Help Day Care Center
- Please Keep Debbie's Kids Safe
- Please Give My Day Care Parents Wisdom
- Please Be With Mom During This Time
- Please Keep Our Country Safe
- Please Help Bruce To Be Happy
- Please Watch Over My Day Care Kids
- Please Guide Our President's Decisions
- Please Give Debbie The Energy She Needs
- Please Help Mom Stay Healthy
- Please Help Blood Drive Reach Their Goal
- Please Help Bruce Make Good Decisions
- Please Help The Day Care Kids Listen Better
- Please Help Debbie Be Happy
- Please Help My Relationship With Bruce
- Please Watch Over Mom
- Please Help Debbie And Bruce Get Along
- Please Watch Over Martin From Day Care
- Please Help Mom Be Happy
- Please Help Bruce To Have Confidence
* Among the many religious and Biblical allusions in the film are the following:
- When exiting God's "office", Bruce walks right over the puddle that drenched his leg on the way in.
- At the diner, while parting his tomato soup a la the Red Sea, the background music is the theme from The 10 Commandments (1956)
- His prayer e-mail service is called "Yahweh.com", a reference to God's Biblical name.
- At the party celebrating the anchor position, Bruce turns water into wine and poses next to a statue of a golden calf.
* One of the many deleted scenes on the DVD (there are ca. 30 minutes on it) has Grace with her sister in a grocery store. Grace picks up a tabloid and remarks about the fictitious actress on the cover, "She's so talented but all they want to talk about is her hair," an obvious reference to herself in real life.
* The name of the weather man (Dallas Coleman) and the name of the sportscaster (Fred Donohue) are both combinations of famous Los Angeles area newscasters. Famous LA weather men Dallas Raines and Fritz Coleman make up the weather man's name, and LA sportscasters Fred Roggin and Todd Donoho make up the sportscaster.
* After he is bestowed with God's powers, the license plate of Bruce's car reads "ALMITY-1".
* When Bruce pulls out the drawer with his files in God's office, there is a file marked "Farts" in the drawer.
* The movie is set in Buffalo, New York because Jim Carrey grew up in Toronto just north of Buffalo and watched WKBW-TV Channel 7 Eyewitness News as a kid. In those days, Eyewitness News was anchored by Irv Weinstein who was famous for his staccato delivery and use of alliterative phrases like "Pistol Packing Punks" and "Buffalo Blaze Busters". Irv was the first news anchor to use the Phrase "It's 11 o'clock, do you know where your children are?"
* When Jim Carrey turns on the TV in the beginning of "Bruce Almighty", the man who appears on the screen is John Murphy, the real-life sports director for WKBW-TV in Buffalo.
* When Bruce and God first meet, God wants him to help clean the floor. Bruce makes an excuse as to why he can't right now, but says (ironically, since he's going to the seventh floor) "I'm free on the seventh, at seven", which is just like in the Bible, where it is said that God created earth in six days and was "free" on the seventh.
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