'Bruce Almighty' is less than divine

It's appropriate that Jim Carrey's latest film is about a fellow imbued with the powers of God.

Carrey, several years past the golden time when he was the hottest thing in movies, is one of the film's producers. And he gave the jobs of writing and directing to his old cronies Steve Oedekerk and Tom Shadyac, who helped him perpetrate his 'Ace Ventura' comedies.

So, in making himself the closest thing in Hollywood to God Ñ a producer Ñ Carrey created 'Bruce Almighty' in his image. And lo, he found it good.

Carrey isn't exactly known for his high standards, however. In this mediocre ball of fluff, he plays a wacky TV news guy who hates his life. This being the movies, his lousy life consists of working in television and living in a very nice apartment with Jennifer Aniston. But no matter. Bruce is unhappy because he isn't an anchorman and his dog pees on his chair.

So he acts like a spoiled baby on the air and gets fired. After railing against God at the terrible unfairness of it all, God himself appears to Bruce to ask, essentially, 'Think you could do better?'

God is Morgan Freeman here, and after the full-on psycho he played in 'Dreamcatcher,' it wouldn't have been surprising if God just started smiting people right and left Ñ starting with Carrey, who certainly deserves it.

Instead of smiting anyone, God gives his powers to Bruce as a way to teach him a lesson. It's a standard plot in Hollywood comedies to teach financially secure, self-centered jerks lessons by giving them even more stuff. By the end of these movies Ñ and this one is no exception Ñ the jerks always figure out that love and kindness beat power and avarice.

This is a nice thought, even if it doesn't make any sense whatsoever: If God had given the executives at Enron Corp. some supernatural powers, would they have learned a lesson and given back everyone's money? More likely they would have created a rich-guy fortress on a magical money island, complete with gold-bearing trees and swimming pools full of euros.

To the writers' credit, Bruce reacts to getting God's powers exactly the way one would expect: He brings forth a hot car for himself, makes his dog use the toilet and gives his girlfriend larger breasts. He also maneuvers his way into the anchor spot at the TV station by sabotaging his competition (Steve Carell).

Throughout all of this, Carrey flails, mugs and contorts like a hyperactive child. There's something sad in the way Carrey overacts in his own film while surrounded by better actors who are actually trying to serve the movie. Aniston, given little to do as the girlfriend, shows herself to have a far greater gift for comedy as she deliberately underplays opposite Carrey's desperate thrashings. And Carell, so good on television's 'The Daily Show,' finesses one genuinely amusing scene when Bruce causes him to speak in tongues during a news broadcast.

'Bruce Almighty' is the sort of film that people file into mindlessly and leave two hours later imagining themselves 'entertained' because they weren't bored. But the absence of boredom is not the same thing as entertainment Ñ and no matter how much Carrey flings himself about the screen like a convulsive monkey, it doesn't make 'Bruce Almighty' into a good comedy.

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