Score composed by John Debney
Directed by Tom Shadyac
Written by Steve Koren, Mark O’Keefe and Steve Oedekerk
Principle Cast: Jim Carrey, Morgan Freeman, Jennifer Aniston, Philip Baker Hall, Catherine Bell, Lisa Ann Walter, Steven Carell
Running time: 101 minutes
Screen Ratio 1:1.85
UK Release 26th June 2003
“Cue: cheesy inspirational music” announces TV presenter Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) and the film appropriately obliges as he runs in slow motion, dousing children in milk and failing to reach the beakers in their outstretched hands. He is covering an attempt to bake the biggest chocolate chip cookie in the history of Buffalo. Of course the music is the theme from Chariots of Fire by Vangelis.
But Bruce wants more than a constant stream of silly season coverage – he wants a job as news anchorman on Eye Witness. Of course he fails to get it, gets stuck in traffic jams, beaten up by a gang and suffers any number of minor inconveniences because that’s what happens to main characters in contemporary comedies. Rather than be content that he has a job, an attentive girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston) and a nice apartment, he spirals into rage and blame. And naturally he points the finger at God as being responsible for his mediocre life. Rather than smite him (admittedly that was Bruce’s suggestion) God (Morgan Freeman) instead decides to give Bruce his job for a while, the only proviso being that he has no control over free will. Armed with divine powers Bruce gets to work… making life better for himself.
Bruce Almighty has a pretty good stab at pitching a high concept piece, but then again so did the limp Anger Management. Once the concept has been established the inevitable cycle of power-responsibility-loss-reconciliation follows the standard story based comedy format. This is no bad thing, once Bruce has realised that he truly has the ability to do what he wants we are shown a variety of sketches to illustrate this combination of comedy and wish fulfilment, to the tune of “I’ve Got The Power” by Snap, naturally. A monkey emerges from the bottom of one of the gang members that beat him up, he can create small breezes that lift skirts Marilyn Monroe style and finds he can even look like Clint Eastwood. All fine and well, but soon the responsibilities of the job start to become apparent, there are all those messy prayers to deal with and his attempt at seducing his girlfriend by reeling in the moon to make it look romantically large causes a devastating tsunami in Japan.
Although slightly overlong the film rarely flags and all the performances are as you’d expect – Carrey is manic and tries to exude lanky geek cool, Aniston is natural but occasionally over expressive and Freeman breezes through a role that, although the screenwriters insist was not written for him, seems to have been written for him. There are comparisons with Groundhog Day, which similarly featured a silly season news reporter who inadvertently obtains powers (in Bill Murray’s case the power to do anything he wants, including suicide, only to have the following day reset to a completely clean slate). Bruce Almighty lacks Groundhog Day’s abrasive edge, where there’s the possibility that power can lead to mania and unspeakable acts. Instead Bruce engages in nothing more than petty frivolities. If the results do begin to become apocalyptic, it isn’t through descent into insanity but through negligence and self-centred determinism.
On top of the God-themed songs (“God-Shaped Hole”, “You’re A God”, “God Gave Me Everything”, a few lines of “What if God Were One of Us?”) Bruce even manages to get Tony Bennett to sing “If I Ruled The World” at a romantic (but ill advised) dinner. Prolific composer John Debney provides a light orchestral score that chirps along pleasantly. Unfortunately the gentle comedy trickles of muted strings and piccolos don’t reflect the action of Bruce removing his violently urinating dog from his damp house – the bodily fluids gags are at odds with a soundtrack that would be more at home in a family film. Similarly the quirky plucked string sections that accompany some of the more earnest moments feel out of kilter. At times however the urge to pastiche pulls off, and given the jokey nature of the songs, it is surprising this doesn’t happen more often. The best of the bunch is a Cecil B de Mille inspired section, where Bruce produces the “parting of the red soup” in a cafe, accompanied by a suitably bombastic and soaring earnest religious style piece. Later there are some “angelic” choral arrangements – the film would really have benefited from more “traditionally biblical” moments like these to emphasise its themes. In the main the score is not even a distraction and, surprisingly, large sections of the film are devoid of a soundtrack at all.
Better than to be expected, but this really means average.