My Name Is Bruce
Directed by Bruce Campbell
Starring Bruce Campbell, Taylor Sharpe, Ted Raimi
When you’re having as bad a week as I am a good movie can be like comfort food. It warms you up and lifts your spirits. When the movie ends you’re full of joy from being entertained and are ready to pick yourself up and get on with your life. Back in February I went through a bad break-up with my girlfriend Suzette. Since then things have cooled and she and I remain on good terms, but at the time I was devastated. I had the unconditional love and support of all my friends but I still needed a little more cheering up. Who better to cheer me up than the greatest of all B-movie actors, an icon and a living legend who even when it came to starring in loathsome direct-to-video schlock always looked and acted like he was having the time of his life? He is the man, the myth, the chin….Bruce Motherfucking Campbell!
This god among men is one of the truest honest-to-L. Ron Hubbard movie stars we have working these days. From the original The Evil Dead to the wonderfully heartfelt comic fantasy Bubba Ho-Tep, Bruce Campbell has built up a unique filmography with more than a few solid gold cult classics, a few too many turgid D-grade sci-fi and horror flicks, a handful of short-lived television series (I miss Jack of All Trades), and the occasional small (and instantly forgotten) part in a major Hollywood movie to pay the bills.
Whether he’s battling it out with actors wearing giant rubber insect monster suits or straining to retain his dignity while acting opposite Matthew Perry, Bruce has always remained a class act and a benefit to any movie he’s a part of. The man is like cheddar: he makes everything better. Hollywood may never stop searching for the next [insert popular movie star of the moment’s name here], but it can be said without a solitary doubt there will always be one Bruce Campbell. After directing many episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, Campbell directed his first feature film The Man with the Screaming Brain in 2005. While it wasn’t the greatest or even a good film, the movie, which premiered on the Sci-Fi Channel before going straight to DVD (Do not pass GO, do not collect $200), featured a fine performance from the Mighty Chin and contained its fair share of entertaining moments. Now Campbell is back behind and in front of the camera for his first theatrical feature film and this time he’s playing the most difficult role of his career….himself.
My Name is Bruce stars Bruce Campbell in the challenging role of Bruce Campbell, a washed-up actor reduced to headlining low-grade Z-flicks such as Cave Alien and Cave Alien 2. Campbell is a bit of a dickish primadonna who enjoys harassing crew members for flavored water, hitting on his female co-stars, and snubbing loyal fans who wait patiently outside the Cave Alien 2 soundstage for autographs. There’s no good life for this hapless schlub. He lives in a dilapidated trailer with only his cheap liquor and a mangy old dog (who also enjoys Bruce’s booze) for company. His ex-wife Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss) is sleeping with his sleazebag agent Mills (Ted Raimi) and haranguing him for larger alimony payments. After a rough day on the set Bruce skulks back his trailer and encounters Jeff Graham (Taylor Sharpe), an enthusiastic fan from the small mining town of Gold Lick, Oregon. Jeff has come to Bruce with an unusual story about how he accidentally unleashed a Chinese warrior god named Guan-Di from his tomb. Now this ancient protector of bean curd is pissed off and relieving the citizens of Gold Lick of their noggins in the name of the Chinese immigrants whose blood the town was built on and the population is quickly dwindling.
Being the pompous ass that he is Bruce dismisses the kid as some hack screenwriter pitching him another cheap piece of crap and shows him the door. Jeff returns, knocks Bruce unconscious, and takes him back to Gold Lick in the trunk of his car. Arriving in the town Bruce is greeted by the townspeople as their savior and is given the royal treatment. The fallen B-actor takes it all in stride because he’s under the impression that this is an elaborate ruse arranged by Mills as a surprise birthday present. Bruce decides to milk the opportunity for all its worth, playing the role of the valiant hero and trying to put the moves on Jeff’s mom Kelly (Grace Thorsen) to little avail. At nightfall Bruce leads a group of Gold Lick citizens out to the cemetery where Guan-Di’s resting place resides to confront the demon, but to his surprise the fucker turns out to be very real and ready to kill. Chickening out, Bruce beats a hasty retreat while firing his gun wildly, inadvertently killing a few of the townspeople. Realizing that his hero is nothing more than a fraudulent blowhard Jeff decides to take matters into his own hands and stop Guan-Di once and for all. Will Bruce be able to locate his inner hero, and maybe his balls, in time to help Jeff defeat the demon and maybe actually get the girl in the process?
Bruce Campbell doesn’t work as much as most actors best known for whoring around in low-rent schlock. So every movie he does these days is a cause for celebration, and My Name is Bruce is no exception. The term “labor of love” gets tossed around a lot but every frame of this movie contains a lot of love, not just for Bruce’s fans but for the company of friends he’s assembled over the years. Working with screenwriter Mark Verheiden, a screenwriter (Timecop, The Mask) and comics scribe who’s known to funny book fans as the writer of the first Aliens Vs. Predator miniseries (the first AVP movie featured a character named after him), Campbell has outdone his first film by miles and all he had to do was build most of the filming locations on the property he owns in rural Oregon and make the movie for a fraction of what most Tinseltown blockbusters cost these days. No biggie, Bruce can handle it! Plus the idea of a genre icon, beloved by millions and immortalized in various forms from collectible action figures to gory video games, taking the piss out of not just himself but his professional and personal choices and his many legions of loyal fans is an irresistible idea that Campbell plays to the hilt in My Name is Bruce.
The story of a real-life movie star forced to live out the kind of outrageous adventures they get paid very well to enact on celluloid isn’t exactly an original idea as anyone who has seen Three Amigos, Galaxy Quest, and most recently Tropic Thunder can tell you. But then Bruce Campbell never had his chance to tackle the idea. Campbell’s career and iconic status has always been ripe for satirical treatment. It’s a kick to see this mighty hero of big and small screens willingly throw himself into a less-than-flattering subversion of his public persona, that of a honest working class B-movie actor who has reinvented himself as a staple of the convention circuit and a raconteur whose stories of working his way ever so slowly up the ladder of the acting profession never get tired because their not the kind of glossy and shallow tales you’d usually associate with the film industry. And it’s pretty clear the man is enjoying himself.
In a strange way the inspiration for My Name is Bruce could almost be Campbell’s first novel Make Love (The Bruce Campbell Way) which was published in 2005 and not long after its publication Rykodisc released the audio book of Make Love. I’ve listened to the audio book many times because like almost everything Campbell, it’s highly addictive. The plot of the book involves Campbell getting into an absurd adventure while shooting a major supporting role in a Mike Nichols film. But the way Campbell portrayed himself in the book hewed relatively closer to how he is in real life, with a few exceptions I suppose. I think the audio book is the best way to go because it’s more like an audio play with a cast of professional actors playing various parts from the novel, and Campbell just plays himself but since he’s in every scene of the story it works in his favor.
When he set out to make My Name is Bruce Campbell remembered some of those actors he worked with on the Make Love audio book and cast them as part of the supporting cast of his movie, several of whom he’s worked with many times in his career. In fact if you look at the cast and crew list of this movie it reads like it could’ve been the guest list for an episode of This is Your Life centered around Bruce. It was a pleasure to see some of these actors getting good roles because it seems these days the only one who will hire them is Bruce, and that’s a shame. Ted Raimi was obviously going to be part of this show as he and Campbell go back to their childhood years as was Ellen Sandweiss, who’s known Campbell since high school and was featured in several of the Super 8 films he made with Sam Raimi and company. One of them was Within the Woods, the short film that would ultimately give rise to the Evil Dead trilogy, the first of which also starred Sandweiss. Dan Hicks and Timothy Patrick Quill play Gold Lick’s resident gay couple and owners of the local gun store. Hicks is probably best known for playing the idiotic redneck Jake in Evil Dead II (a.k.a. GREATEST FUCKING MOVIE EVER MADE!!!!) and also had a small role in Raimi’s Darkman. He was also an integral member of the Make Love voice cast having played possibly as many roles as Ted Raimi, at one point even playing a thinly-disguised version of himself named “Lanny Sticks.” Quill is another old friend of Bruce’s from his younger years and is best known to Evil Dead fans for playing the bald blacksmith in Army of Darkness.
Kurt Rauf serves as cinematographer on the film. He got his start in the Campbellverse (I’m trade marking that word so don’t fuck with me) as a “Fake Shemp” on the first Evil Dead (and I think he also appeared on the Make Love audio book). Michael Kallio, a filmmaker who made his directorial debut on the Bruce-produced Hatred of a Minute and also shot the behind-the-scenes documentary Heart of Dorkness that appears on the My Name is Bruce DVD, plays the pretentious hack director of the film within the film Cave Alien 2. Bruce even cast his brother Mike and nephew Colin as two of the poor schmucks his moronic on-screen persona inadvertently shoots while fleeing from Guan-Di. Plus Joseph LoDuca, the composer of all three Evil Dead movies and various films and television series featuring Campbell, provides the musical score for My Name is Bruce. So for Bruce Campbell, clearly this is a family affair.
Everybody involves does a damn fine job. Most of the film, including the Guan-Di scenes, is played for broad comedy rather than straight horror so the movie is pitched at that level and it mostly succeeds. To keep the movie from flying completely off the rails the cast play their parts pretty straight-faced. I really liked the performances of Campbellverse newbies Grace Thorsen as gutsy single mom Kelly and Taylor Sharpe as Jeff, the personification of every pale-skinned dressed-in-black fan Bruce every had. The script by Verheiden is quirky, fast-paced, and loaded with quotable dialogue mostly given to Campbell because let’s face it, just about every line of dialogue the Mighty Chin speaks these days usually ends up being quoted for the rest of time. There are also a lot of choice quips aimed in the direction of some of Campbell’s more questionable career decisions. A cardboard standee featuring the man in his Make Love/Old Spice commercial persona plays a crucial (and pretty funny) role in the story.
Now let’s get to this groovy DVD.
Image Home Entertainment has released My Name is Bruce in a Blu-Ray disc overflowing with extras. The film itself is presented in a fine video transfer that preserves the original 1.78:1 widescreen theatrical aspect ratio. Boosting the home presentation are Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Surround 2.0 English audio tracks that perform their duty adequately depending on your home entertainment set-up. English and Spanish subtitles are also provided.
The extras kick off with an audio commentary featuring Campbell and Mike Richardson, the publisher of Dark Horse Comics who produced the movie through his company’s new film division. As expected with any Campbell commentary the track is highly entertaining and informative as he and Richardson share stories and crack jokes about this low-budget endeavor.
The next best extra on the DVD is “Heart of Dorkness: The Making of My Name is Bruce“, an hour-long documentary which as the cheeky title suggests takes a frank and funny look behind the scenes of the movie. Every major member of the cast and crew sit down to wax poetic about their experiences working on the film and their mostly serious impressions of Bruce Campbell as an actor and director. Campbell, no surprise, dominates the proceedings with his bullshit-free approach to everything.
“Awkward Moments with “Kif”” is a two-minute segment with the movie’s associate producer Craig “Kif” Sanborn having an uncomfortable encounter with a female crew member. It is all played for laughs, and it is not what you think. Also not worth more than one viewing either.
“Bruce On”¦” finds Bruce Campbell waxing philosophic for four minutes on a variety of topics: cougars (real ones), budgets, rap music, and providing the DVD producers with a little”¦uh”¦bonus for the extras. Worth a few chuckles.
The horrendously cheese ball movie-within-a-movie Cave Alien 2 gets its own trailer (2 minutes) and mock behind-the-scenes featurette (8 minutes). The trailer is alternately hilarious and groan-inducing and the featurette plays up the whole “Bruce is a prick” message prevalent in the movie, and the pretentious director played by Michael Kallio scores a few laughs in his insistance on pronouncing the movie’s title Cavalien 2. Funny stuff that satirizes the fly-by-night nature of making these schlock Sci-Fi Channel flicks.
“Kif’s Korner” is three more with our favorite associate producer showing off the graphic art he created for the movie, most prominently the various fake movie posters and video box art for all of the movie Bruce’s less-than-stellar cinematic efforts.
“The Hard Truth” (4 minutes) is a phony Hollywood show business program that gives us a tongue-in-cheek at the “real” Bruce Campbell, with interviews from several of his collaborators on My Name is Bruce. This short is amusing but by this time the running joke about Bruce really being a huge asshole is beginning to wear thin.
The movie’s priceless redneck gay couple played by Dan Hicks and Timothy Patrick Quill get their own little spotlight in the minute-long feature “Love Birds.” The running time is taken up mostly by the two actors goofing off by showing us how much they are in “love”. Another brief short that is worth at least one watch.
The extras finish off with a trailer for My Name is Bruce and a series of image galleries: Poster Art Gallery (22 images); Props Art Gallery (10 images); and Photo Gallery (66 images).
My Name is Bruce will never be considered a perfect film with the snobs and so-called purists, but fuck them! Ever since committing to the television series Burn Notice we don’t get a new Bruce flick as often as we used to so every film he does is a cause for celebration. The man is a living legend and always a hoot to watch. Coming along at a moment in my life when I didn’t think it was possible to sink any lower this movie and DVD lifted my spirits and put a big smile on my face. And for that all I can say is, thanks Bruce.
Comment by Jerry — June 7, 2009 @ 11:36 pm
Great flick! Great review! Three things though with regard to Man with he Screaming Brain:
1)The exact title is Man with the Screaming Brain, omit “The”. Bruce was very specific about this.
2) Man with the Screaming Brain was a superb film! After all it stars Bulgaria! Who doesn’t love Bulgaria?
3) It did hit theaters before coming to DVD in a limited theatrical release. And in most cases with a guest signing and Q&A by Bruce (he signed my chainsaw bit!)
Comment by DrNecropolis — June 8, 2009 @ 11:45 am
As much as I love Bruce Campbell beyond belief, I just could not get through the whole movie for Man With The Screaming Brain. I even bought the comic book, and I just couldn’t get through it :-(
Comment by Empress Eve — June 8, 2009 @ 10:45 pm