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Make no mistake: Bruce Almighty is Judeo-Christian to its bones. Even a gift of prayer beads from Bruce's girlfriend can't quite bestow on the film that glossy "all religions are one" hue. After all, with God the Father represented by the venerable Morgan Freeman; with grace embodied by the all-loving, all-forgiving, faithful-to-the-end girlfriend; and with the Holy Spirit writing on the cardboard placards of a homeless man, it would be tough to argue that ...

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Given the opportunity to play God for two weeks, any reasonably conscientious person would set about affecting positive change in the world, such as ending hunger or bringing a lasting peace to war-torn regions. Even the most narcissistic jerk, like the one played by Jim Carrey in the loathsome comedy Bruce Almighty, would be expected to dream up untold pleasures for himself, acting as a self-serving genie with infinite wishes. But it's a sign of the film's astonishing paucity of imagination that Carrey's first order of business, outside of house-training his dog and endowing his girlfriend with larger breasts, is to get back his job as a wacky, "lighter-side-of-the-news" reporter at a local Buffalo TV station. Slinking back to rubber-faced shtick and dire catchphrases after a stint as a dramatic actor, Carrey literally plays God's gift to comedy in the film, solemnly accepting the burden of spreading laughter and joy to foreign, domestic, and important ancillary markets. Though his talents are as questionable as ever and his sincerity even more so, his egotism knows no boundaries: In Bruce Almighty, the entire universe revolves around him like hired help, a life coach dedicated exclusively to assisting his transition from a raging asshole to one who occasionally donates blood. Sticking closely to the high-concept, Capra-esque formula of their 1997 comedy Liar Liar, Carrey's redemption comes courtesy of Patch Adams director Tom Shadyac, who absolves his sins with a toxic dose of third-act sentimentality. When events conspire to keep him from getting an open anchor position at a TV affiliate, Carrey turns his rage toward the heavens for failing to rescue him from the horrors of a steady wage, a lovely apartment, and a live-in girlfriend played by Jennifer Aniston. In the form of Morgan Freeman, God answers his complaints by handing over the reins for a couple weeks and challenging him to do a better job, under the caveat that he doesn't tell anyone he's God and he doesn't affect free will. At first, Carrey uses his powers to become Buffalo's hottest TV news reporter, but after a while, his magic tricks result in global consequences, and millions of unanswered prayers lead to a major celestial backlog. Chum for academic theologians, Bruce Almighty treats God as an overtaxed Santa Claus who divvies out as much divine grace as He can, but relies on good deeds and self-improvement to relieve Him from His duties. (His idea of a miracle? "When a teenager says 'no' to drugs and 'yes' to an education.") Not since Pay It Forward framed human generosity as a pyramid scheme has a film promoted such a calculated brand of Hollywood universalism, though it lacks the vision to be truly blasphemous. But more than anything, Bruce Almighty is about the next phase of Jim Carrey's career as an entertainer, struggling to reconcile his Jimmy Stewart dreams with the juvenile fartsmith within. Equal parts manic and mawkish, Carrey appears to consider his rebirth as late-period Robin Williams a blessed event.

 

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In the 2003 comedy Bruce Almighty, Bruce (Jim Carrey) was a self-centered TV reporter frustrated with God (Morgan Freeman) over perceived mismanagement. God gave Bruce a chance to prove he could do better by temporarily granting him Almighty power; hilarity and some pretty decent theistic theology ensued. That film did not please everyone—it was too spiritual (Christian, really) for some mainstream viewers and too bawdy for some Christian viewers—but it still managed to entertain its way to considerable box office success.


Evan Almighty is Bruce Almighty's sort-of sequel. Director Tom Shadyac and screenplay writer Steve Oedekerk are back, as is Freeman. But Jim Carrey's Bruce is nowhere to be seen. Instead, Evan Baxter (Steve Carell)—Bruce's scene-stealing news anchor rival from the first film—is the focus of God's (and the audience's) attention. When the film opens, Evan has just been elected congressman and is leaving the TV business and Buffalo behind to move his family to a new life in Virginia. He has a great wife, Joan (Gilmore Girls' Lauren Graham), three handsome adolescent boys, a fabulous house (complete with kitchen cabinets harvested from the rainforest) and a Hummer in the driveway. Everything is going splendidly until God shows up and asks Evan to build an ark.