In Bruce we Trust?
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Date: June 2003

Image: © Buena Vista/Universal
'...his first stab at omnipotence is about childishly getting even with an unfair world.'

Bruce Almighty (12A)
Directed by Tom Shadyac
Starring: Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston and Morgan Freeman

Reviewed by Catherine von Ruhland

Could rubber-faced funny man Jim Carrey be the new James Stewart?

Don't laugh. He played the everyman little-guy-against-the world in 'The Truman Show' (true man, geddit?). He can do dark against type as 'The Cable Guy' to Jimmy S's 'Vertigo'.

And in 'Bruce Almighty' it's made over-abundantly and, it has to be said, heavy-handedly clear that the classic 'It's A Wonderful Life' is a fundamental reference point.

But how times have changed! For whereas Stewart's suicidal George Bailey is a good man brought low by circumstance who turns to God in utter desperation, Jim Carrey's Bruce Nolan is an out-and-out practitioner of our blame culture.

Every little thing he does wrong is God's fault. Any wonder then that God (a white-suited Morgan Freeman) calls his bluff and decides 'Right. You do it!'

Jim Carrey's biggest US box office opening taps into contemporary misgivings about where life is taking us. With a nod to 'Groundhog Day', Bruce is a weary forty-something Buffalo journalist stuck in an apparently never-ending cycle of small town news reporting who couldn't be less happy with his lot.

So his first stab at omnipotence is about childishly getting even with an unfair world. He might have God's power but he brings his selfish humanity to the table too. Only through a growing understanding of what love really is, of how answers to prayer are so often through little acts of human kindness does Bruce learn to be a more content and better person.

But Bruce Almighty isn't 'Groundhog Day'. Unfortunately, like Steve Martin before him, Carrey has gurning desperation to be like that eventually, makes you want to give him a good slap.

Jim's fans, however will be disappointed by the lack of slapstick. Nevertheless, that a mainstream Hollywood movie can be so upfront about faith in a loving Father should be celebrated. (It's a nice touch too that He should happen to be black).

What a more secular UK audience will make of it will be interesting to see. Unselfish prayer is seen to work, notably via Jennifer Aniston's underused girlfriend Grace whose heart goes out to the self-obsessed Bruce. Her belief motivates her actions: she's a nursery teacher who gives blood. Bruce Almighty isn't a great film but it does make you think.

It shows strength in community, that actions great or small have consequences, and that each one of us can make a positive difference as part of God's plan.