Jim Carrey wants it both ways. He wants to be the heir apparent to The Three Stooges, but he also wants to tug at our heartstrings. Until now, hes divided those aspirations between films, the silliness of ME, MYSELF, AND IRENE and the carefully calibrated corn of THE MAJESTIC. Perhaps sensing that his audience has only so much patience, in BRUCE ALMIGHTY, he becomes a double threat and I do mean that in the worst way.
The Bruce of the title is a seething morass of discontent. He wants what he doesnt have and doesnt value whats right in front of him, , a job doing the fluffy stuff on the local news in Buffalo, a girlfriend who looks like Jennifer Aniston who adores him (though one wonders why), and a spiffy home that is a Yuppie dream. We meet him on the worst day of his life, most of which he has soundly brought on himself. After ragging on God for not paying enough attention to him, he gets to meet the big guy in the person of Morgan Freeman, who, instead of smiting him, offers him his job.
Oh, such a premise with which to play, one rife with so many interesting ways to go, so many metaphysical questions to ponder. Instead of exploring anything along those lines, we have Carrey at his most manic, mugging, petulant, exuding a maliciousness that I can only think was not intentional on Mr. Carreys part. It is no wonder that God notices him. The wonder is that its not to smite him. The point of making him initially unlikable, though not to this extent, is, of course, so that he can do the transformation thing, learn his lesson and become the happiest man in Buffalo. Its a creaky plot device that has been known to work when handled properly. Think A Christmas Carol. Alas, screenwriters Steve Koren, Mark OKeefe, and Steve Oedekerk are collectively no Dickens and Carrey is no Alistair Sim or George C. Scott. Carrey is so decidedly unlikable that there is no overcoming the loathsome factor when it comes to redemption, certainly not with writing that delivers up the wit and wisdom piping hot and fresh from the nearest second grade playground. The running joke is about Bruces dog being given divine guidance on how to use the toilet just like a real person. Yep, were delving into some deep philosophical territory here.
Naturally, Bruce learns some lessons about life and thus, towards the end, we have Carrey walking down a highway in the pouring rain, emoting his little heart out in a desperate attempt to be taken seriously as an actor. Unfortunately, all he gets is wet. As does the film when it takes a disjointed left turn into dramaland. It’s sudden attempt at profundity comes off as trite at best.
Tom Shadyac, who also wrote the screenplays for, and directed Carrey in ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE and LIAR, LIAR, has taken this predictable, hackneyed, and astonishingly unentertaining script and rendered it lethargic, the pacing tedious. As for the supporting cast, everyone seems listless, as though any hope of producing a good film has evaporated and they are trying their best to get through this sludge and then get on with their lives. Carrey, though, is a blur, who pummels inanimate objects at will, flies about in fits of manic energy for no readily apparent reason, and contorts himself in ways that add nothing to the character.
The thing about The Three Stooges is that they understood what they were good at and went with it. If there was no finesse to their antics, there was nonetheless a palpable joie de vivre that Carrey has lost. Youd never find Moe, Larry, Shemp, or even Curley Joe trying to warm the cockles of your heart. Thats why we loved them. And after seeing BRUCE ALMIGHTY, I miss them just a little more than I did before.