Thank heaven, Carrey's funny again

If God suddenly endowed you with His almighty powers, what is the first thing you would do?

Stop world hunger, help the poor, or get homeless people off the street?

In Bruce Nolan's case, he decides to part his tomato soup like the Red Sea, potty-train his dog, transform his junky old car into a Ferrari, and turn people into lottery winners. But that's only part of this heavenly comedy.

In Bruce Almighty, Jim Carrey teams up again with Tom Shadyac, director of "Ace Ventura" and "Liar, Liar."

Carrey plays Nolan, a television reporter in Buffalo, N.Y., who dreams of sitting at the lofty anchor's desk one day. Instead, he's out in the field reporting on fluff, from Buffalo's largest cookie to the Maid of the Mist boat at Niagara Falls.

Despite his upbeat on-camera demeanor and a supportive girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston), he's deeply unsatisfied with his life.

He eventually cracks on camera and loses his job. Bruce chastises God for his problems and then asks the Lord for a miracle. In a flash, he's standing in a building named "Omni Present" where he meets God, played by Morgan Freeman. As it turns out, God wants to take a vacation and has chosen Bruce to take his place while he's away.

Now that Bruce has got the power, he has no idea what to do, except make all of his dreams come true and take a little revenge along the way. But there has to be a moral lurking here somewhere, and Bruce eventually learns the importance of helping people.

The Big Guy has taken on many different forms over the years. Historically, Hollywood has stayed away from casting God in a humorous light. This is largely because of the 1930s Hays Code, which forbade any ridicule of religion and faith.

In 1956's "The Ten Commandments," the movie depicts God in a very conventional biblical style. Even then, the film didn't show God - only lightning bolts and a booming voice by Charlton Heston.

Two decades later, movie standards loosened. Since the 1970s, a comedian has more often than not been cast as the supreme being. George Burns, Richard Pryor, and Whoopi Goldberg have all signed on as the ultimate boss. The award for best title goes to Peter O'Toole, who played the Absolute Unknowable Righteous Eternal Lord of Hosts, King of Kings and 14th Earl of Gurney.

Most films do not address any specific religion, although Kevin Smith's "Dogma," where Alanis Morrisette plays God, explored Roman Catholicism.

"Bruce Almighty" is secular and relatable - and above all, funny. One thing that isn't very clear is that if Bruce is God, why wouldn't he know his girlfriend's thoughts about their relationship? Apparently, even godlike powers can't help men understand women.

Whether it was divine direction, common sense, or just plain old economics, this role is a godsend for Carrey. After big box-office successes like "Ace Ventura: Pet Detective" and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas," his more serious dramas, "Man on the Moon" and "The Majestic," flopped. Happily, Carrey is back with his trademark facial expressions and outrageous physical comedy.

Even Freeman gets a few laughs, especially when he says "All-righty then," an homage to a famous Carrey phrase.

After critical recognition for Aniston's role in last year's "The Good Girl" and the cult favorite "Office Space," "Bruce" should secure her future on the big screen. Aniston is a bright presence in this movie, and it's time she got her due.

For those concerned about questions of sacrilege, not to worry. "Bruce Almighty" isn't making fun of God. Quite the contrary. Here, God is more or less making fun of man.

Rated PG-13; contains vulgar language, sexual content, and crude humor.

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