Picks and Pans Review: Bruce Almighty

updated 06/02/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 06/02/2003 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Jim Carrey, Jennifer Aniston

After belly-flopping with a soggy dramatic performance in 2001's The Majestic, Carrey retreats to the safer if not necessarily higher ground of slapstick. Reteamed with Liar Liar director Tom Shadyac, Carrey plays a Buffalo television reporter, Bruce Nolan, who's stuck doing tacky, "fun" human-interest stories. When Bruce, edgily pleasant in the old Carrey mode, loses out on an anchor job, he snaps. Broadcasting from Niagara Falls he turns on his elderly interviewee, introducing her as "Katharine Hepburn's mother." His anger escalates into its own Niagara-size torrent, something between a hissy fit and King Lear. Fired and still raging against fate, Bruce meets God, played by Morgan Freeman with the fatigued goodwill of someone chained for eternity to a desk job in the public service sector. God is sick of hearing complaints. He'll let Bruce fill in.

The movie shifts into high gear as Bruce tests his powers. In a nod to It's a Wonderful Life, he lassos the moon closer to Earth to heighten a night of romance with his girlfriend (Aniston, in a blank role that leaves her to pout and squint in her winsome, Anistonian way). He gets himself rehired with a news scoop so miraculous, Geraldo Rivera would throw in his mike and retire to a monastery. Carrey brings on all the old mannerisms (the mouth that seems to swing on a special set of hinges, the clarion voice summoned from heaven knows where), but the aggressive tang is sweeter than before. He looks like a musical-comedy star tripping on hallucinogens.

Things go dead near the end, as Bruce realizes that being God is good for your résumé but bad for your love life. Carrey gets some big, weepy scenes, and it's The Majestic again. He's as nobly flat as a soda renouncing its fizz. So many Carrey performances riff on facile movie emotions—joy! anger! love!—that when he tries for sincerity, he can't convince. (Call it the Bill Murray Problem.) If Carrey wants to be a better actor, he'll have to be a worse comedian. (PG-13).

BOTTOM LINE: Some mighty good gags

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