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Wednesday, May 07, 2003
BRUCE ALMIGHTY: HIGH THEOLOGY FOR THE VIEWERS OF JACK ASS

I'm going to give a thumbs-up to Tom Shadyac's new film Bruce Almighty. It seems to me to be a sneaky, highly skilled attempt to awaken some spiritual longing in the theater-going masses.

I'm not somebody who enjoys crass humor, and so I squirmed through the few scenes here that are a valentine to the people who love the butt jokes and fart humor that decorated and, arguably defined, Shadyac's previous blockbusters, Ace Ventura and Liar, Liar. But there are a lot of other laughs in the film and I think teens could certainly see it without lasting harm. Jim Carey is better than he's ever been in this film, playing a basically good, but flawed guy, who gets to be God for a few days.

Christians will have problems with the film because the main character seems to be living happily and functionally in sin with his girlfriend, played well by Jennifer Aniston. I was at a junket last week with Shadyac, and winced while a writer from another Christian ministry - we'll call them "Focus on the Fundamental Unit of Society" - chastened Shadyac for placing his characters in an unwed mode.

Shadyac, who attends a Los Angeles Catholic Church - became passionately verbose in explaining that Bruce's character BEGINS the movie in a place of immaturity and selfishness. Shadyac's long unruly locks flailed all around as he gesticulated that Christians need to read our own books like The Confessions of St. Augustine, and stop being afraid of portrayals of sin. Shadyac pointed out that at the end of the film, when Bruce gets his act together, he indicates that he is going to marry his girlfriend.

To be fair, my sense of Christians is not that they are afraid of portrayals of sin, but rather they are disgusted by the lie in so many entertainment productions that it is possible to live in sin without any deleterious effects. I think Bruce Almighty can be cleared of this charge. The main character is obviously self-absorbed and unhappy, and he is represented as being obtuse to the gift that his girlfriend, named "Grace" is.

Shadyac understood that it is a source of sorrow for many people trying to live a godly life, to watch unmarried people flagrantly living together. (After he finished his, "Broaden your mind" speech to the Focus-ed Christian, he said, "Do you forgive me?") But it seemed to me pretty clear, that Shadyac didn't make this movie for people who are already living a godly life. He is trying to give the global masses a good laugh and then "something extra," as Joseph Conrad expressed it.

There is lots to like in Bruce Almighty. I haven't heard the concept of free-will bantered around any better and in any more overt way in a movie. The film also popularizes the habit of prayer, and offers a picture of a loving, personal God.

It's not a movie I could have made - but I'm glad Tom Shadyac did. I hope the Church gives him a break.