I was living in Berkeley when Bruce Campbell was touring his autobiography If Chins Could Kill. I walked past the theater where he would be signing, nearly falling over with laughter when I saw the sign the management had put on the door:
“Mr Campbell will be happy to sign books, VHS tapes and DVDs. Please – No power tools!”
I missed the signing, but from what I heard, it was a great success. I later bought If Chins Could Kill, which is an honest and amusing look at no-budget filmmaking and the career of a fringe actor. Campbell comes across as a down-to-earth guy who ekes out a living doing what he loves to do. By all accounts, he is the same affable guy in real life, the complete opposite of his often smarmy screen persona, and he always goes that extra mile for the fans. This should to some extent explain the man’s appeal beyond a score of mediocre movies leavened by some genuine gems like the Evil Dead flicks, Brisco County and Bubba Ho-Tep. (And I’ve seen a lot of them, folks!)
My Name Is Bruce is directed by Campbell himself and written by noted comic book scribe Mark Verheiden, whose first three Alien story arcs for Dark Horse I consider the true continuation of the saga. (Oh, if only they had used those scrips instead) It’s basically a long, 90-minute sustained in-joke: A grave is opened by some horny teenagers, relasing the Chinese God of War who then proceeds to decimate the teenagers and exact his revenge on the town. The surviving teenager, a Serious Bruce Campbell Fan, kidnaps Campbell, a sleazy, drunken actor – basically the «Gimme some sugar» version of Bruce – to help save the town, figuring the actor is the best monster hunter around. Campbell figures it’s the birthday present his agent promised him and plays along. When the monster appears, he runs away screaming. As we know the hero must, he returns to the town, facing down the demon, telling the teenager and his hot mom that
“However this turns out, I have to tell you something…I’ll never forgive you for dragging me into this!”
My Name Is Bruce is hardly what one would call great art, but it’s funny as hell, sending up both Campbell’s C-list star image and low-budget films with equal relish and affection. Ted Raimi plays several parts, including Bruce’s sleazy agent, a hapless Italian sign painter and a wizened old Chinese man. (I’m not sure the ridiculous sterotypes of the latter two are offensive or not, but I’ll let it slide, as the whole thing is too knowingly meta to be anything but a joke in the first place) We also get cameos from the Evil Dead movies: Ellen Sandweiss (known for the notorious tree rape scene in the first Evil Dead) plays Campbell’s ex-wife, for example. There’s also a score of other details for the True Believers, like Campbell drinking «Shemp» bourbon, and references to his book How To Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way. so most bases are covered. Thankfully, My Name Is Bruce isn’t content to just make a fool of Bruce. It also pokes fun of the True Believers – in one hilarious scene, he hands one fan a deoderant and pushes another (in a wheelchair) into traffic.
Campbell’s direction is effective, if not innovative (in addition to The Man With The Screaming Brain, he has directed several episodes of Hercules and Xena), and the script moves tings along at a brisk pace, delivering the jokes promptly and never outstaying its welcome. The actors all play it reasonably straight, which helps the joke tremendously.
A lot of words spent on a not-terribly-serious movie, perhaps, but this was one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve had in a long time. Of course, your mileage may vary.