[Screen It]

(2003) (Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A disillusioned TV reporter finds that God's job is harder than he imagined when the Almighty anoints him with His powers.
Bruce Nolan (JIM CARREY) is a Buffalo TV reporter who's hoping that his boss, Jack (PHILIP BAKER HALL), will promote him into the now vacant anchor spot alongside co-anchor Susan Ortega (CATHERINE BELL). Yet, and despite having a loving, long-term girlfriend in the form of Grace Connelly (JENNIFER ANISTON), Bruce isn't happy since things just aren't going his way.

When rival reporter Evan Baxter (STEVEN CARELL) gets the anchor position instead of him, Bruce goes off the deep end. He then blames his misfortune on God and His failure to fulfill Bruce's dreams and aspirations. As a result, and tired of the blame, God (MORGAN FREEMAN) calls upon Bruce and bestows him with all of His powers, stating that it's now Bruce's chance to play God.

With the only rules being that he can't tell anyone or mess with free will, Bruce immediately sets out to better his own life. Yet, when that ruins his relationship with Grace, and after he's inundated with millions of prayers, Bruce must decide what's best for him and everyone else.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
The old saying goes, "Everyone's a critic." Well, there are plenty of armchair quarterbacks as well who like to complain about any matter of things ranging from sports, the Government and corporate America and believe they could do the job better. There are even those who criticize movies and state how they could have made any given movie better than what Hollywood has done. Imagine that!

Most of them and the rest of the complainers, whiners and general know-it-alls usually have no experience in the field of which they critique, yet that doesn't stop them from ranting and raving. What if they got the chance to prove their mettle in the same situation? Do you think they'd still have the same barbed opinion?

Screenwriters Steve Koren ('Superstar," "A Night at the Roxbury") and Mark O'Keefe (making his feature debut) & Steve Oedekerk ("Kung Pow: Enter the Fist," "Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius") have concocted such a premise, but rather than having their protagonist make a movie, coach an NFL team or run the White House, they went a little higher for their inspiration.

In "Bruce Almighty," the perpetually rubber-faced and bodied Jim Carrey plays an unhappy TV reporter who feels that God should be fired for letting him down and not making sure his dreams came true. In turn, God -- Morgan Freeman ("Dreamcatcher," "The Sum of All Fears") doing the standard deity in disguise bit - decides to hand over the reigns to Bruce to see if he can do a better job. After some bouts of mischief and self-serving behavior, he discovers that he can't and learns a lesson or two about power, God and himself.

Since this is a Carrey comedy, one expects and anticipates the physical and verbal hijinks that will undoubtedly erupt from the premise. The question remains, though, about whether they'll be from the softer and gentler Carrey of recent, or the more outrageous and wild version from the past.

The answer is something of a combination of the two. While there are some funny and amusing moments, however, the results aren't as creative, imaginative or hilarious as I imagined and hoped they might be. After all, Carrey is arguably the most gifted physical comedy performer working today, and his unabashed enthusiasm for getting into his role (and whatever that requires of him) is often infectiously hilarious. Alas, that's not often the case here.

That's not to imply that fans of the star of films such as "The Majestic," "The Truman Show" and the "Ace Ventura" movies will be disappointed. There's plenty of sophomoric and crude humor on display (including another bit involving a man's posterior, although it's not a volley of words that emanate from there), as well as Carrey's trademark shtick of bending and contorting himself into something that doesn't always seem real (for better or worse).

A little of that can go a long way if accompanied by other imaginative plot material, but director Tom Shadyac ("Patch Adams," "Liar Liar") and his trio of writers mostly drop the ball in such regards. Considering that the setup is something of a mixture of the computer game Sim City and the old three wishes from the genie in the lamp bit, the film is ripe with potential.

In essence, it's the polar opposite of the Devil-based wishes in "Bedazzled," but with the same seemingly limitless possibilities. Both versions of that earlier film had far more fun with the wishes and their subsequent repercussions than what's on display here (where the protagonist has the power to grant his own).

In this offering, Bruce briefly has some fun and betters his personal situation by taking down others in his way. That leads to one of the funnier bits where Steven Carell (TV's "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart") plays a rival anchor who's suddenly tongue-tied and then some during a newscast. There are also plenty of lottery winners and such when Bruce decides to answer everyone's prayers in the affirmative, but that only eventually leads to pandemonium.

Alas, none of that - or Jennifer Aniston's bust increase and a dog learning how to use a toilet like a human - is terribly funny, and some of the material (especially the dog bit) is needlessly run into the ground in favor of better or at least novel material. Because of the filmmakers' lack of imagination, the film and thus the viewer, accordingly suffers.

Many moments in it are flat rather than inspired, and the film gets a bit (or a lot, depending on your tolerance) mawkish in the third act. Considering that the basic story is just a variation of the old "It's A Wonderful Life" plot, it isn't surprising that the protagonist eventually recognizes that theme and has a transformation for the better. While expected and despite the right intentions, the change and its catalyst just didn't work for me and felt like forced piety rather than the real thing.

Part of that's because I had no vested interest in the main character due to him being poorly written and not remotely real. Carrey makes the most of the material, but his is only a mediocre effort and clearly far from his best work. Freeman isn't around long enough to make much of a difference, but is decent and appropriately all-knowing in the stereotypical movie representation of God.

Jennifer Aniston ("The Good Girl," TV's "Friends"), however, is completely wasted playing the standard issue, girlfriend/wife/significant other character. A less prominent actress could have been put into the part with no significant difference (other than the box office draw aspect). Beyond Carrell, the likes of Philip Baker Hall ("The Sum of All Fears," "Magnolia") and Catherine Bell ("Men of War," TV's "JAG") appear in supporting roles, but their characters and resultant performances are unremarkable.

Neither the best nor worst Carrey film in terms of concept or resultant laughs, "Bruce Almighty" has some funny moments, but they alone can't and don't make this a good, let alone heavenly or classic comedy. It rates as just a 4 out of 10.

Reviewed May 20, 2003 / Posted May 23, 2003

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