[17 March 2009]
The premise to My Name is Bruce is quite simple. When the residents of Gold Lick, a small mining colony in Oregon, are threatened by the Chinese god of war, Guan-Di (who is also the protector of bean curd – true story), a young, Bruce Campbell idolater, Jeff (Taylor Sharpe) gets an idea to save his town. He kidnaps Campbell, who’s shooting his new film “CaveAlien 2”, and puts Campbell’s years of B-movie skills to good use fighting this ancient evil. But mistaking an actor for the characters he plays is recipe for humble pie, and though ego-maniacal Campbell is quick to embrace the fame of the hero, he can’t seem to grasp the responsibility.
This horror comedy, directed by and starring the man called Bruce, blends the endlessly entertaining lampooning of Hollywood with the endlessly awesome decapitation-by-bisento. Seems like everything you could ever want out of a film. But the movie hinges very strongly on the fact that you know Bruce and love Bruce, and it will not pander to the uninitiated.
Maybe you do know who Bruce Campbell is, but only his award-winning portrayal of geriatric Elvis in the 2002 mummy-horror Bubba Ho-tep and not as Ash in those Evil Dead films who replaced his hand with a chainsaw to aid him fighting off legions of the undead. Or from the short-lived, underappreciated FOX western Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. If so, that’s all right, but don’t expect just recognizing his most famous role to score you any points with the hardcore fans; as Jeff sternly proclaims early in My Name is Bruce, “Everyone liked Bubba Ho-Tep!” Because when it comes to cult fanaticism, the more lauded, the less credible. And from the film’s countless references to Moontrap, Maniac Cop and even Campbell’s novel, Making Love the Bruce Campbell Way, it’s easy to see that Campbell knows who butters his bread, and it’s not the Bubba Ho-tep fans.
Campbell may have made his career as a blue-collar actor, but he made his name talking about it. Endless conventions, book talks and his bestselling If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor humanized an all-too humanizing career of scrounging from job to job of being covered in fake blood over and over again. My Name is Bruce attempts to bring that working-class idea back, full-circle. Not only does Bruce direct himself performing a parody of his own career, but he did it all in his backyard, literally. Most of the town of Gold Lick was constructed on Bruce’s large-acre property in southern Oregon. All these aspects point to a homegrown film that rewards the loyal, bread-buttering fans.
But sadly, even for Campbell-ites, the film is hit-and-miss. The highs are very high (Bruce wildly shooting townsfolk is Evil-Dead-worthy hilarity), but the lows are tragically such. And though his acting has never been more charismatic and endearing, it’s his directing that needs the work. Scenes lack tightness, cohesion and solid transitions, and the script rarely eclipses the second-rate, straight-to-DVD films it glorifies and reveres. Sometimes that’s good as a send-up, but the bad dialogue often breaks the rhythm of the film’s comedy, and the recurring “I wish I could quit you” joke and Ted Raimi’s Charlie-Channeling, buck-toothed Asian doesn’t help.
As a Campbell fan myself, the poor overall quality of the film was a large disappointment. Especially because unlike other mock-celebrity-reality movies as of late, My Name is Bruce doesn’t come off as an ego piece or a career re-boot, but a gift for all the people who’ve supported Campbell over the years. That’s why he’s willing to have an entire town constructed on his property and wouldn’t mind helming the director’s chair himself – it’s out of appreciation. (Either that, or because when you’re the director and the principle actor, you can cast yourself wearing Hawaiian shirts in every scene and no one can say otherwise.) And although I do feel privileged with each passing obscure reference, each completely ridiculous fake-Bruce character trait, and every satiating decapitation, it’s not enough to make the 84-minutes seem justified.
But what the DVD lacks in feature film, it more than makes up in extras. With a full-length, making-of documentary, The Heart of Dorkness, a Bruce commentary track, multiple featurettes, abundant Easter eggs and just about as much Bruce as one can handle, this DVD could’ve been released without the movie and still have been as rewarding to people itching for their Bruce scratch. One of the most enjoyable aspects was the cast and crew round-up, where each member of the team talked about their history with Bruce and the work experience with the film.
People came from all over – some from Bruce’s acting past; whether it be features, the original Sam Raimi Super 8’s, or the local Michigan soap opera Generations (1983); some he’d met on his book tours; still others were local Oregon talent. Hell, Bruce even gave The Heart of Dorkness director a speaking role. Every single crew member couldn’t stop talking about how wonderful the whole process was and how appreciative they are of Bruce. It’s that genuineness that makes every Bruce project so attractive.
And while they’re all waxing praise about how much fun they had how great it felt to be making an independent film (“His own film, his own land, his own friends”) it’s Army of Darkness alum, Tim Quill, that has the line that sums it all up: “Something tells me we’ll be back out here.” Half of the movie experience is the process, and maybe the film didn’t live up to my expectations, but that’s not always what B-movies are about, are they?