Though Liar Liar was sappy and obvious, it delivered plenty of riotous laughs and a perfectly pitched performance by Jim Carrey. Carrey's reunion with director Tom Shadyac--after Carrey's ill-fated, boringly straight The Majestic--almost feels like a customary summer sequel to Liar Liar with its "magic" realist plot, broad humor, and vehicular Carrey role.
This time, God replaces Mother Supernature. Carrey plays TV reporter Bruce Nolan, whose good humor typecasts him as a goofy "human interest" specialist. The early scenes--which also introduce a fretful Jennifer Aniston in the nothing part of Bruce's girlfriend "Grace" (oh, brother!)--are especially fitful and slapdash as the audience waits for the manic "Bruce Almighty" routines to kick in.
When Nolan begins feeling more than a little like Job after a series of misfortunes culminates in the loss of a coveted anchorman promotion, he cries out to God, complaining that the "man" upstairs (Morgan Freeman) has laid down on the job. So God takes a holiday, leaving His godly powers to Bruce. With only the tinniest of dialogue, Morgan Freeman does his Morgan Freeman "thing" to amusing effect.
Probably in no small part due to the budget drain of Carrey's multimillion-dollar salary and a battery of digital effects, Shadyac delivers a half-thought-out movie with bad cinematography and bad music (Carrey's newsman jape "cue the cheesy, inspirational music" rings hollow). He also makes the happy "mistake" of letting Steven Carell--best known for his deadpan-boils-over antics on TV's faux newscast The Daily Show--steal the show as Bruce's anchorman competition. Carell's unctuous demeanor and crack timing give him nearly as many funny moments as the leading man.
The film's high-concept immediately settles for formula, with the self-absorbed Bruce recklessly misusing his powers for his own benefit. Fine, but the screenplay--credited to Steve Koren & Mark O'Keefe and Ace Ventura vet Steve Oedekerk--only pays lip service to the disasterous consequences and fails to adequately define its own rules. The most evident and egregious oversight involves a section of the movie in which Bruce answers a blanket "yes" to all prayers in his Buffalo radius; what happens when people's prayers are at odds, as they so often are? Do they cancel each other out? Does the majority win?
The lazy script fails at every turn fully to exploit the premise--the average Joe on the street could take this story in more believable and interesting directions, but the writers are more focused on indulging white-panic scenes of office politics and Latino street gangs while making the dogged Carrey fetch his shtick. Hollywood continues its trend of rampant self-reflexiveness by teaching Carrey's Bruce, repeatedly, that "There's nothing wrong with making people laugh."
Carrey plays along, as a guy who's always "on," a histrionic drama queen who loses his mind after quite reasonably losing his job. His athletic gestures and pounding jaw can still generate laughs; among the handful of genuinely amusing gags are an old jacket-caught-in-the-car-door bit and a routine in which Carrey Photoshops the sky and lassos the moon.
The latter is part of Bruce Almighty's ill-advised homage to Frank Capra and, in particular, It's a Wonderful Life. Like most modern-day "Capra-corn" (The Majestic included), Bruce Almighty misreads the recipe. Capra made incisive and funny social satires with likeable, flawed, but redeemable characters; in the end, Bruce may look at his life differently, but he still comes off like a royal ass.
In its Blu debut, let's just say that Bruce Almighty has a transfer that's not next to godliness. Make no mistake: this is an improvement over previous editions, but it's dubious whether it's worth an upgrade for current owners, given a range of distractions in the image, including edge enhancement and generally uneven sharpness and contrast. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix fares better, offering wraparound sound that seems to maximize the source material.
Other than the AWOL theatrical trailer, the BD includes all previous DVD bonuses: a feature commentary with director Tom Shadyac (for those who would enjoy hearing the director expound on his choices, working with Carrey, and the special effects); "The Process of Jim" (5:54, SD) a Shadyac interview illustrated with interesting Carrey outtakes; a reel of "Outtakes" (6:37, SD), and fifteen "Deleted Scenes" (30:30, SD) that come with optional commentary by Shadyac.
Of course, Universal also includes its My Scenes bookmarking feature.
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