Tuesday, August 11, 2009

My Name Is Bruce (2008)

Watch enough B-grade horror and science fiction movies, and you'll have more than likely seen something featuring Bruce Campbell at least once. The actor most famous as the star of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy has made a career out of appearing in movies that range from the schlocky to the silly, and a few of them have found cult followings in their own right.

But whether he's in movies like Alien Apocalypse or Terminal Invasion, or television shows like The Adventures of Brisco County Jr., Campbell's fans are fiercely dedicated. It is his offbeat relationship with his fans that led him to direct My Name Is Bruce, an affectionate self-parody of Campbell and his fans. And as someone who appreciates Campbell's work, I can say that the movie is a heck of a lot of fun.

The small Oregon town of Gold Lick is about to be in some serious trouble. A group of dim-witted teenagers have accidentally unleashed Guan-di (James J. Peck), the Chinese god of war, from the tomb of Chinese miners who were killed in a cave-in in 1870. Now released from the mine that had served as his prison, Guan-di is free to seek bloody vengeance against all those who desecrated the grave he was protecting... and the entire population of Gold Lick is on his hit list. The only survivor among the aforementioned dim-witted teenagers, Jeff Graham (Taylor Sharpe), is convinced that the only person who can save Gold Lick is his idol, B-movie icon Bruce Campbell (playing himself).

Jeff kidnaps Bruce and drags him to Gold Lick, where he is greeted with a hero's welcome. The guy's fought enough movie monsters, so why couldn't he take care of a real one? But Bruce thinks the whole thing is some kind of stunt, a gag put together by his agent (Ted Raimi) as a birthday present. It also gives him the change to put the moves on Jeff's mother (Grace Thorsen). But once he actually comes face-to-face with Guan-di and realizes that the situation is real, he does what comes naturally to him: he runs far, far away. But when he gets a call from Jeff the next day, Bruce discovers that Jeff is going to try killing Guan-di himself. And even though he's a total coward, Bruce just can't stand by and let an innocent kid become Guan-di's next victim.

Bruce Campbell has starred in some pretty corny movies in the past, and I don't think that My Name Is Bruce is any different. But what sets it apart from other Campbell movies is that My Name Is Bruce is one of the rare recent ones that's actually good. The fact that Campbell has no problem cracking jokes about himself, his career, his friends, or his fans makes the movie a lot more entertaining, especially if you're a fan of Campbell. The whole movie gives off the impression that it knows it isn't supposed to be taken seriously, and it's a better flick because of it.

Campbell sits at the helm for this flick, and you'd never realize this is only his second directorial effort. His work is solid, and though it's obvious that this is a very low-budget affair, Campbell makes the most of it. And really, a movie like this has to have a low-budget, because I don't think it would be effective any other way. It wouldn't be as accurate a spoof if it cost several million dollars to produce. But Campbell is a competent director regardless, and the real highlight is the scene depicting the filming of his latest crappy movie, a fictional sci-fi sequel titled Cavealien 2. The scene perfectly satirizes most of Campbell's movies, cramming every possible cliché in there. There's the lazy set design, the cheap costumes, the awful special effects and makeup, obvious bloopers and errors, an ultra-pretentious director, and actors with accents so thick that it's hard to tell if they're actually speaking English. Campbell's made enough of those type of movies to know how to properly make fun of their stupidity, and he absolutely hits the nail on the head. The scene is so good that it makes me hope that somebody actually makes a real Cavealien movie. But all in all, Campbell's direction is well done, and I can't complain.

Next on my list is the screenplay, written by Mark Verheiden. To put it bluntly, Verheiden's script is a joke that not everyone will get. The movie wasn't written to be for mass consumption, but for fans of Bruce Campbell. Verheiden does try to let a few jokes for casual viewers slip through. But altogether, he's packed it with so many fun little references to just about every really notable part of Campbell's résumé prior to the movie's production. The only things I didn't catch were any potential references to Xena: Warrior Princess and Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. (And then, it was probably rights issues, if anything.) The jokes might go over quite a few heads, but as a lover letter to the fans, it works.

And then there's the cast. Most of the actors are disposable, but that's probably to be expected given the type of movie this is. But there are enough watchable performances to hold the movie together. But let's start with the major supporting cast first. Taylor Sharpe plays an important role in the movie, as his character ends up setting the whole plot in motion. But it is obvious that Sharpe has never done any real acting before. His delivery feels stilted at times, and he looks like a deer caught in the headlights at others. But I will say that Sharpe is likable, and his performance does fit the B-movie feel that the movie was going for.

Playing the obligatory love interest is Grace Thorsen, who does a better job than I expected. She ends up being overshadowed by other members of the cast, but her performance is respectable and I liked her a lot. The brightest spot in the supporting cast, however, is the one and only Ted Raimi. Raimi plays three minor roles, and he's awesome in all of them. Just about every word he says is hilarious, making it feel like each of the characters were tailor-made for him to cut loose and ham it up.

But we cannot forget why we're here: Bruce Campbell. The movie depicts him as a sleazy, egotistical, washed-up loser that lives in a rundown trailer, drives a lemon that makes Al Bundy's car look top of the line, gets stuck in lousy movies despite begging his manager to find him better work, and drunk-dials his ex-wife at 3:00 in the morning. He also doesn't care much for his fans, as evidenced when he kicks a man in a wheelchair into traffic for being rude. Campbell plays his role with gusto, letting himself come ever so close to going over the top without ever crossing that line. He's obviously having a ton of fun in the role, and I can't blame him for that. I don't know how many actors would be willing to parody themselves to the extent that Campbell does here, which only makes his performance that much more entertaining.

I've already said it, but My Name Is Bruce is not for everybody. The movie is one big inside joke, being told to a very select group of movie fans. It isn't even for the fringe people who call themselves Bruce Campbell fans, yet have only seen the Evil Dead movies. It's for those true blue, dyed in the wool Campbell lovers who would watch Man with the Screaming Brain a thousand times, stay up all night because they heard Running Time would be airing on IFC at some ungodly hour, or drive halfway across the country to the middle of nowhere in Tennessee to visit what's left of the cabin from the first Evil Dead movie. It's for them. I though the movie was a really entertaining way to spend an hour and a half, so I'll gladly give My Name Is Bruce three and a half stars on my five-star scale. Now if only they'd have put that chainsaw in the movie to good use...

Final Rating: ***½