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Grace Notes

Jim Carrey doesn't know what to make of his sudden divinity in 'Bruce Almighty'

By Richard von Busack

AS BRUCE NOLAN, an unhappy newscaster endowed with the powers of God, Jim Carrey at first uses his divinity to settle scores in his life: humiliating his enemies, roping in the moon and sizzling his girlfriend, Grace (Jennifer Aniston), with his new sexual abilities. The opening mixes Carrey's signature raunchiness with a ticklish pace. The film's bubbly enough that Aniston's bland, small-screen presence doesn't drag things down. The bright idea of Morgan Freeman as God--and his heaven as an large, empty, white loft--makes more of an impression than a special effects-ridden lair.

Strangely, Bruce is an easily pleased demigod; he seeks to become a news anchorman in Buffalo (Bruce Almighty's imagination fails at what all that divine power would be like--would God be satisfied with Buffalo?). All too soon, the bill comes for the early laughter. Bruce sees the sight of Grace praying about her heartbreak, and his indiscriminate blessings result in an underproduced street riot.

If the film seems half and half, remember that Tom Shadyac made Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Patch Adams. Bruce Almighty starts like the former and ends like the latter. While the premise flirts with blasphemy, the comedy depends on the idea that God is pestered only with insignificant prayers, asking to win the lottery or find a lost cat. In Christopher Durang's play Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You, the half-mad nun claims God answers all our prayers: "Sometimes the answer to our prayer is no. Dear God, please make my mother not be crazy. God's answer: No. Dear God, please let me recover from cancer. God's answer: No. Dear God, please take away this toothache. God's answer: All right, but you're going to be run over by a car."

There's nothing as barbed as Durang here; what begin with stinky comedy ends in the pews, with Carrey letting go and letting God. Freeman, with his divine gravity and natural warmth, as well as droll reading of lines like "Take a closer walk with me," turns out to be just another smug conservative: "A woman working two jobs and still taking her kid to soccer practice--that's a miracle!" In other words, underpaid, overworked parents are the way God wanted it.

Bruce Almighty (PG-13), directed by Tom Shadyac, written by Steve Koren and Mrk O'Keefe and Steve Oedekerk, photographed by Dean Semler and starring Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman and Jennifer Aniston, opens Friday at selected theaters valleywide.

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Web extra to the May 22-28, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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