Bruce Almighty. Universal Pictures presents a film directed by Tom Shadyac. Written by Steve Oedekerk, Steve Koren, Mark O'Keefe. Running time: 101 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for language, sexual content and some crude humor). Starring Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman.

Bruce Almighty

If the filmmakers responsible for Bruce Almighty had made a movie that lived up to the great premise, they could have had a real hit on their hands. As it stands, however, Bruce Almighty is a movie that ranges from hilarious to infuriating and everywhere in between. When you add it all up, that does not equal quality filmmaking. It equals nothing more than a mildly entertaining diversion.

But we should just be thankful that Bruce Almighty is better than director Tom Shadyac's last effort, the nearly unwatchable Patch Adams. Unfortunately, Bruce Almighty, while starting off strong, eventually falls directly into Patch Adams territory. The last twenty minutes or so are so laughably sentimental that you would be better off just leaving the theater and making up your own ending. Looking at the rest of Shadyac's filmography, I don't think that it is unreasonable to request that he never directs another movie.

Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) is a local news reporter stuck with all the joke stories. When, on one particularly terrible day, Bruce is fired, gets beaten up, crashes his car, and gets into a fight with his live-at-home girlfriend, Grace (Jennifer Aniston), Bruce unleashes a tirade against God (a very cool Morgan Freeman). Slightly perturbed at Bruce's brashness, God offers Bruce his powers. Zaniness insues.

Unfortunately, after the good setup, it seems like the screenwriters just stopped trying. Bruce Almighty has some strong comedic moments (including one very funny scene with Bruce's smug co-worker, played by a scene-stealing Steve Carell), but the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Instead of going into all the promising scenarios made possible by the plot, Bruce Almighty takes the easy way out with simple (and, admittedly, occasionally funny) toilet humor.

Jim Carrey is perfect for this type of role. Unfortunately, he knows it too, and it feels like he's only doing this because it's expected of him. Jennifer Aniston is given very little to do, and she never gets to show off the acting talent she displayed in The Good Girl. Morgan Freeman is the only actor who does anything with his role - he should be the first actor turned to when a movie needs an actor for God (although I still perversly want to see what kind of profane deity Samuel L. Jackson could put together).

Had the last thirty minutes been handled differently, I would be recommending Bruce Almighty. As it is, the finale is disgustingly saccharine. There is a right way and a wrong way to handle feel-good endings. Capra knew how to do it right; for this reason many of his films are regarded as classics. Tom Shadyac does it embarrasingly badly. Bruce spends his time working for himself and not helping others. Then, at the end, he learns a valuble lesson about life and love. Uck...

Judging by this review, my **1/2 star rating may seem a little high. But Bruce Almighty is far from terrible. In fact, at points, it's quite good. But the movie as a whole is totally uneven, and the screenplay passes up some completely obvious oppurtunities. For the summer, this movie may serve as an enjoyable respite from the heat. But Bruce Almighty is nothing more than a movie that could have been great, but ended up as just average.

© 2003 Matt Noller