Despite some funny moments and a better-than-he's-done-lately performance from Jim Carrey, Bruce Almighty is a middling, ultimately shallow comedy that deals in issues of religion yet has next to nothing to say about any of them.
After a brief detour in children's fluff (The Grinch) and ultra-earnest drama (The Majestic), Bruce Almighty marks a return to full-fledged comedy for Carrey, even reuniting him with his Ace Ventura and Liar, Liar director, Tom Shadyac. That Shadyac also directed the universally reviled Patch Adams is an indicator that Bruce Almighty may very well be no good, but it's got it's moments.
Carrey plays a down-on-his-luck TV anchor in Buffalo, though the film's greatest mystery is how a man can date Jennifer Aniston and still be "down on his luck." After a streak of bad luck, Carrey declares his anger at God, who appears to him in the person of Morgan Freeman- who becomes one of the only actors, and certainly the only black actor, to play both the president and God in different movies (he was the former in Deep Impact). Freeman/God decides to give Carrey his powers for a period of a couple weeks, just so he'll know how hard it is to be God, or something.
There are quite a few problems with this: we're given next to no clue as to what the Carrey character's religious beliefs are, and it's a bit of stretch to assume he'd blame God for everything. Second, why would Freeman all of a sudden cede all of his powers, to Bruce of all people? Does he do that to everyone who complains about God? Does this make Bruce the Messiah? Since the film has practically nothing to say about the nature of God, or faith, or anything else, all these questions are left unanswered at the end, rendering most of what we've seen meaningless despite a few poignant moments.
The Bruce-as-God scenes have some funny moments, and as always Carrey's funny faces and voices are only effective to a point. But Bruce Almighty suffers more from the all-the-good-scenes-are-in-the-trailer syndrome than any other comedy in memory. I laughed when I first saw the dog-sitting-on-the-toilet four months ago, and the same with the parting-soup-like-the-Red-Sea, but by the time I saw the movie it was all been there, done that. The only "original" moment that is the slightest bit humorous is a scene in which a monkey literally flies out of a character's butt.
But Steve Carell, of TV's The Daily Show, steals every one of his scenes as Carrey's rival, and Philip Baker Hall is great as always as the TV station's boss, a comic riff on his Don Hewitt in Michael Mann's The Insider. Catherine Bell (the sexpot from the TV series JAG) gets an extended cameo as a fellow TV anchor with comical, cartoon-like breast implants.
Bell's character also embodies an out-of-leftfield dig at the emerging trend of non-Latino American newscasters using false Latino names and accents on the air. It's funny, but totally out of place in this movie. And the TV-news-office-politics angle was done much better in two far superior movies, Groundhog Day and Broadcast News.
It's good to see Jim Carrey doing comedy again. While he hasn't made a true classic in years (The Cable Guy, oddly enough, has turrned out to be his most appreciated film). Let's just hope his next script choice is a better one than Bruce Almighty, which takes an interesting high concept and bogs it down in Carrey's tired mugging and meaningless thematics.