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February 10, 2009

My Name is Bruce

2008, Dir. by Bruce Campbell

Bruce. Campbell. Those two words alone can bring music to the ears. A couple of reviews back I talked about how "Icon" status seems to be a dime a dozen for horror "stars" of the last 30 years. Well, in the case of Bruce Campbell, it's all true, baby.

Best of all, Mr. Campbell knows it. Though it could be argued he's only been the star of four successful films, he's made his name as the preeminent name in b-movie schlock for an entire generation of film geeks. In fact, he's now to that great point in an actor's career...where he gets to make fun of himself. There is much rejoicing.

The Plot
The movie begins by telling us of the legend of Guan Di, the ancient Chinese god of war and guardian of bean dip, who happens to have been trapped in a mine in a small town called Gold Lick over 100 years ago. Unfortunately, a young man named Jeff who's obsessed with the movies of a certain Mr. Campbell, along with a friend and their lady friends of the evening, unleashes (or unreashes, depending on who you talk to) said demon. And somehow he convinces the town there's only one man that can save them - the man who's currently starring in Cavealien 2.

Meanwhile, the real-life Mr. Campbell has his own problems. He's hated for his antics on set of his latest sequel, having trouble relating with his agent (old friend Ted Raimi in one of three roles), and placated only by drinking alcohol, even if it comes from a dog bowl. (If you read nothing else in this review, at least click on that last link. It's worth it.)

So, Campbell jumps at the opportunity for a new role slaying a demon in Gold Lick, especially after being kidnapped and meeting Jeff's young mother. When he realizes the demon is real, he's forced to show his true colors.

The Good
Fans of horror cinema of the last three decades will find much to love in Campbell's mix of hero worship and self-deprecation. The script (which Campbell didn't write, surprisingly) is inspired by an old series of comics featuring Hollywood hero Alan Ladd (aka, Shane) facing challenges based on the films he'd starred in and is always charming, if not deep. Campbell eats up the chance to be the big man on campus, and he should - most of the film was shot on his property in Oregon in a move made to avoid upping the film's budget. He never has a problem being the butt of a joke, but also is still as good as ever when taking on the hero role. The rest of the cast knows their role opposite the director/star/main character, and no one seems to take anything too seriously.

There are a lot of in-jokes for fans, of course, with references to some of Bruce's films and spoofs of some of his less ambitious works (like the previously mentioned Cavealien films, which sadly don't exist in the real world). A couple of old friends from the past show up in Evil Dead 2's Dan Hicks and Army of Darkness' Tim Quill (who I nicknamed Fu Manchu many years ago thanks to his awesome mustache), although their presence is spent primarily on a silly Brokeback Mountain gag. His Evil Dead co-star Ellen Sandweiss (who I erroneously referred to as his girlfriend in that film in a past review, when she actually portrayed his sister Cheryl) also appears in a brief role, this time as his ex-wife Cheryl.

Finally, the demon Guan Di is pretty cool. In fact, I'd say the film's best serious moments are when the demon pops up, which is a testament to the crew for making an effective b-movie monster and backing it up well.

The Bad
My want to love My Name is Bruce is far too strong for me to say too much negative about the film. One could argue that Campbell's film is ridiculously cheesy, not funny unless you don't know the back stories, and entirely self-serving. To which I would say - "Yeah. So????"

In all seriousness, I did have some issues with My Name is Bruce. Some of the humor is quite juvenile - there are gay jokes, prostitute jokes, even transgender jokes. None of this is meanspirited, but it's a slight letdown after the serious, yet hilarious tone of Campbell's last masterpiece, Bubba Ho-Tep. As well, there's not much depth to Campbell's "character", and it would have been nice to see the star take a more serious approach to his career choices at some point, even if only for a monologue.

Random Moments
  • Instead of that serious moment, we get this scene instead. Which it's really hard to complain about.
  • While I thought my nerdness was big, the young Jeff has one heck of a memorabilia collection. And he creates this for Bruce...I want one.
  • During one scene, the background music is clearly Bernard Herrmann's score from Psycho. I thought I recognized the music in some other scenes, but that was the only one I could clearly place.
The Verdict
My Name is Bruce was predestined for greatness, and I knew going in that there was no way the film could live up to the expectations of fans like myself. Thankfully, Campbell and his cast and crew put together a fun film that hits more than enough to keep a nerd like me happy. While I'm initially sad the film didn't blow the last 27 and 3/4 years of my film-going life out of the water, I know I'll keep watching it over and over again. I know that I've already watched all the special features, and I know that I'll soon be watching the film with commentary. I know that it will live on more for me than many better films, because it hits the cheesy notes that I dig and it seems sure to continue to go down easy. I know that, as a sort of lifetime achievement piece, it's already a crucial part of my Midnight Movie canon.

The Mike's Rating: Legends Series


Anonymous said...

I really want to see this. I might pick up a copy for Jen.

And I'm not put-off at all by the fact that there's juvenile humor. I'm a juvenile-humor kinda guy :)

Anonymous said...

Hey, MIKE! That was a great review. :D I am glad it was a good one, though I knew it could never live up to the hype.

Anonymous said...

Such an awesome movie. I was really surprised that it met my expectations, and it shows that Campbell really has a knack for comedy. I would be down with him making another movie.