One only needs to briefly scan Jim Carrey’s filmography to understand his malleability. From the loveable albeit idiotic yo-yo’s of Dumb and Dumber and Ace Ventura to the searing, nuanced performances delivered in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Truman Show, Jim Carrey has proven that he can do it all. So why does an actor with so much to offer habitually appear in formulaic comedy? Several of his films rely solely on a superficial gimmick in order to produce change for their central characters.
Liar Liar, Yes Man and most odiously the lackluster 2003 offering Bruce Almighty follow this template. In Bruce Almighty Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a whimsical yet sad-sack of a man who feels that the odds are stacked against him. Despite an interesting job, a nice apartment and a smoking hot girlfriend, Carrey’s Bruce spends the entire first section of the film bitching about the state of his affairs to God. Perhaps taking mercy on the audience God finally answers this whiny git about thirty minutes in and challenges him to see if he can do a better job of controlling the cosmos.
Of course, this leads to Carrey gallivanting around the city of Buffalo, NY and using his newfound status as a deity for purely selfish reasons. Now, this probably is the most entertaining part of the film, where Carrey’s gifts as a physical comedian are placed front and center. The problem is at the time of Bruce Almighty’s release Carrey had already been a big star for more a decade and his remarkable comedic gifts had already been more memorably portrayed in previous films. So, with the gimmick (Carrey’s utilization of God’s supernatural powers) not being really all that exciting all we’re really left with is the third-act portion of the story. This section is riddled with saccharine moralizing and life lessons so expected and tired that it would make even the most nascent of movie watchers throw up their hands in dismay.
Additionally, Bruce is a role that Carrey has done many, many times. While he is more than fine in the part he (as noted above) shows the audience nothing we haven’t seen before. His girlfriend in the film (played by Jennifer Aniston) is also the personification of everything that is wrong with the way most Hollywood scripts treat their female characters. Aniston’s Grace contains little in the way of an arc or a personality and she isn’t a strong enough actress either to transcend this forgettable figure. Perhaps the most successful (and interesting) performance in the film belongs to Morgan Freeman, whose banal persona usually is to the detriment of his films but works perfectly here. There seems to be a shrewd awareness of how many viewers associate Freeman as the spiritual, disembodied and ubiquitous voice-over narrator of countless films. He is a perfect choice to play the Heavenly Father.
Bruce Almighty bows to not only the clichés of formulaic comedy in general, but also to the constraints of Carrey’s gimmicky canon and does not work well as a comedy or as a drama. Due to the presence of a few humorous sequences (such as when Carrey turns Aniston’s character into a raging ball of horny and the dynamic between Carrey’s Bruce and a then unknown Steve Carrell) Almighty might be worth experiencing if one were a huge fan of the actor. If not, there are better films out there which seek to comment on the hilarious randomness of our universe.