Bruce Almighty

Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston, Morgan Freeman.
Directed by Tom Shadyac.
Running Time: 94 mins
Rated: PG

Jim Carrey divides audiences. I have been appalled by his work in Dumb and Dumber, of which there is prequel on the way, and Me Myself and Irene. When Peter Weir took him in hand, however, he gave an award winning performance in The Truman Show, and Carrey showed his depth as an actor in The Man On the Moon. Understandably he is up to some of his old antics in Bruce Almighty, but don't avoid seeing this engaging film because of him.

Bruce (Carrey) is a television reporter. He gets all the soft news stories that usually fill up the last minutes of a bulletin. His ambition is to be the news anchorman. While his girlfriend Grace (Aniston) prays to God that he will achieve his ambition, the station appoints Bruce's archrival Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) to the job. Bruce explodes on air, looses his job and blames God for his misfortune. God (Freeman) meets Bruce and challenges him to do a better job at presiding over the world. There is only one condition: "you have to learn the rules.' Bruce discovers that being Divine is not as easy as he thought, and that even God obeys self-imposed limitations.

If I were teaching religion these days I would take the class off to see Bruce Almighty. It's a terrific conversation starter about the nature of God and faith. Like The Man Who Sued God, it takes theological questions very seriously and does the hard work of speaking about them in the public market place, for an increasingly unchurched audience.

As with most popular forums it may not have the finesse or nuance that many of us may want in public theological debate, but writers Mark O'Keefe, Steve Koren and Steve Oedekerk are doing religion a favour in this film. Tellingly, however, God in Bruce Almighty is not remotely interested in Bruce's irregular marital situation.

There are religious allegories everywhere in this film: because of self centeredness Bruce has a complex relationship with "Grace'; the truth tellers in the film are the poor; Bruce commits the original sin in Genesis of wanting to be God; hard work, even spiritual work, is presented as the key to happiness; Bruce parts the 'red sea' of his tomato soup; Grace prays that she and Bruce will be loving and happy, not that God will magically fix up her problems; nature, justice, evil and free will are connected.

Bruce Almighty cannot resolve many of the complex questions it proposes so it turns to an appallingly schmaltzy ending to finish off the film, but on the way through it poses some important things to think about. Is God into revenge? How and why does God intervene in the world? What does it mean to surrender to God's will? By what rules does God operate? Does prayer change God or us or both?

Unlike the old question, "Why is it that the devil gets the best tunes?' Bruce Almighty gives God the best one-liners, and Morgan Freeman delivers to perfection. "You can't mess with free will.' "What do you really care about? I care about Grace.' "You want to see a miracle, be a miracle.' "That's the problem, people keep looking up when they should look inside.'

A film that starts with God's omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence and turns it into a comedy we can think about must be heaven sent.

Fr Richard Leonard SJ is the Director of the Australian Catholic Film Office.

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