I think it's probably human nature to have control issues, especially as we're constantly confronted by universe that seems to thrive on chaos and at least at times seems rather irrational. I'll leave it to you individually to confess privately whether you've fantasized about actually being God, but I think most of us would have no problem admitting that we've at least entertained illusions (and/or delusions) about what things would be like, to quote the Tony Bennett hit Orandel-Bricusse song from the musical Pickwick, "If I Ruled the World." Bruce Almighty, a rather surprisingly thoughtful take on one man's realization that he has indeed become the Deity, is one of those "serious" Jim Carrey comedies, by which I mean Carrey ostensibly gets to strut his stuff as an Actor (with a capital A), while still mugging it up to elicit more lowbrow laughs. It's an uneasy mix at times, but director Tom Shadyac manages to walk the stylistic tightrope more or less cleverly enough to please the diehard, lunatic Carrey fringe while also attempting at least some passing thoughts about what it means to know everything and have the power to change lives.
Carrey portrays Buffalo "news" reporter Bruce Nolan, who finds that his beat is becoming more and more of the quirky, human interest stories that feature such wonderful folk as a nose-picking Russian émigré baker. Up for an anchor position, Nolan gets the bad news that rival Evan Baxter (Steve Carell) has been hired for the job, news that is delivered to Nolan via an audio feed just seconds before he's to go live on a remote shot from Niagara Falls (one of the few unconvincing process shots in this film). Bruce, who's had a string of bad luck, completely loses it on camera, leading of course to his firing by the station, and a falling out with his girlfriend (the criminally underutilized Jennifer Aniston). Nolan then engages in a sort of cosmic pity party, decrying God's evident campaign to deprive him of any shred of happiness. I won't completely spoil what happens next for those of you who haven't yet seen the film, but suffice it to say Bruce's heavenly rant is answered in an unexpected fashion by the Deity (a marvelous Morgan Freeman), who gives Bruce some of His omnipotence (at least in limited doses).
What Bruce Almighty does very well is paint a nicely comedic picture that I think most everyone who has ever questioned why they're going through whatever they're going through will be able to relate to. Who among us hasn't at least occasionally shaken their fist at the sky and asked an invisible presence why they have it out for us in particular? Carrey does a fine, if predictably manic, job at portraying Bruce's growing frustration and rage as one thing after another goes wrong in his life. Shadyac does good work balancing the underlying angst of the premise with a penchant for unforced comedy (yes, I did just write "unforced comedy" in reference to a Jim Carrey film).
What the film doesn't do well is what ultimately sinks a lot of Carrey vehicles--Bruce Almighty lets Carrey have free reign a lot of the time, and his incessant schtick wears awfully thin after a while. We get yet another new catchphrase ("That's good," with "good" sort of burped out), lots of rubber-faced mugging, and that typical hyperbolic style that defines so much of Carrey's work. It completely nullifies any serious intent the film may have, but more importantly it makes the film veer uneasily style wise between a sort of pleasant Groundhog Day thoughtfulness and the completely unbridled insanity of The Mask.
Bruce Almighty does do a relatively subtle job of weaving in references to other pop culture phenomena. We get a smattering of Joan Osborne's song "What if God Was One of Us?" (something the film actually depicts in the final moments), an early visual reference to It's a Wonderful Life, which is followed up later when Aniston actually watches a scene from the film on television, and, lo and behold, Tony Bennett himself singing "If I Ruled the World." These extra-curricular references universalize (no pun intended) Bruce Almighty at least a bit, helping to generalize the underlying idea of the film, which is, in fact, a sort of mirror image of Wonderful Life: even if you had the power to completely change your life, things might not end up any better, and indeed might become substantially worse.
In a way, Bruce Almighty the film and Bruce Nolan the character are perfect for Carrey, an actor who seems self-absorbed to the point of psychosis at times. Nolan is an insufferable egotist, someone who is convinced it's "all about him," and Carrey, as unfair as it may be to say so, watching from the "outside," as it were, seems to live by that seem creed. It's to Carrey's credit therefore that he actually injects a little humanity into the character, and shows some surprising vulnerability at times throughout the film. The fact is, though, that despite Carrey's nonstop mugging, the film finds its funniest moments in throwaway lines, like co-anchor Catherine Bell's delicious reading of her character's name, Susan Ortega. Sometimes it's in the smallest details that one can find evidence of at least a little divine intervention.