A looking-glass cover version of The Truman Show, the maudlin Jim Carrey vehicle Bruce Almighty lets the comedian ply his rubber-limbed shtick as well as indulge his pursuit of sappiness. What if God was one of us? What if He was “wacky” local-color-beat TV news reporter Bruce Nolan (Carrey)? For some, the film will be of interest less as an exploration of everyday divinity than as the only significant movie set in Buffalo, New York, since Vincent Gallo’s masterful, mute-palette 1998 debut. Gone are the Queen City’s weatherworn grays; here is Buffalo scrubbed (or backlotted and bluescreened) to a paradisical, even Californian glow. Instead of Buffalo ‘66′s ersatz, wide-right Bills, Bruce Almighty gives the periodically glorious, now beleaguered Sabres hockey club its due. (Repeat after me: NO GOAL.) For all its mawkish moralizing, the film has at least one moment of emotional truth: As any Buffalonian-turned-God would do, Bruce uses his divine powers to award the team the Stanley Cup.
Those not obsessed with Western New York minutiae (Carrey, from nearby southern Ontario, is clearly an aficionado, riffing off the call letters WKBW) or lacking an incurable sweet tooth may find the proceedings hard going, if not quite a form of divine punishment. Passed over for the lead anchor slot, Bruce gripes about his mediocre life, irritating his long-suffering, nursery-school-teacher girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston, reduced to a whine). Following a mysterious pager message, he enters an abandoned warehouse (marked “Omni Presents”), where his Maker (Morgan Freeman, suitably dignified) makes his home; the blinding white, infinite tundra of a loft suggesting both the abstract abode of Laurence Fishburne’s Matrix-magi Morpheus and an Apple advertisement. Bruce takes over for the vacationing deity, but despite an initial surge of jolly, somewhat cruel chaos (as when he forces the new anchor to unreel paragraphs of gibberish on camera), things soon turn soggy. By the film’s bland end, only one enigma remains, insoluble as a koan: Why does Freeman wear a Yankees cap?
People named Bruce—made antisocial, the argument goes, by the fact that not enough movie characters share their name—have another reason to come out of their shell: The Pixar-goes-piscine Finding Nemo features a ferocious Great White, named after the mechanical shark used in Jaws. (This Bruce also quotes from The Shining and Monty Python.) But whereas Bruce Almighty has one conceit, rotely fulfilled, Nemo is stuffed to the gills with surprises: Bruce, for all his terrifying teeth, is part of a 12-step program to abandon his carnivorous ways, and his terrifying relapse has him slamming into a submarine’s innards for the catch of the day. It’s an ocean of eye candy that tastes fresh even in this ADD-addled era of SpongeBob SquarePants.
The sturdy story, in which single-dad clownfish Marlin (Albert Brooks) and his son Nemo (Alexander Gould) are separated by a deep-sea-diving dentist who nets the latter for his office fishtank, is a well-crafted line on which to hang scores of lovely sequences: Surfaces shimmer with meticulous underwater light schemes, schools of fish so large (as the Yellow Submarine joke goes) they should be called universities scatter and coalesce as if ruled by a single mind, a jungle of jellyfish glows with weird menace and unearthly beauty. Twice unearthly—free of the land, and free of nature’s hand. Anthropomorphized facial features notwithstanding, Finding Nemo‘s totalizing, computer-generated aesthetic (moments reminded me of Winged Migration) stirs up maker’s mark questions that are at least a league deeper than anything proposed in Bruce Almighty‘s armchair religion.