I have to admit, I’ve always been more a fan of B-movie living legend Bruce Campbell‘s personality than I have any of his films. Like most celebrities, there are conflicting stories of whether Bruce is aÁ‚ duke or a douche, but from every interview I’ve ever seen or read concerning him, he seems to be a very down-to-earth guy who’s well aware of his place in the universe, and which in turn makes him appear to be a more affable guy than most…and in the long run, makes watching those few films I’ve seen him in(the big ones like the Evil Dead trilogy, and the seldom-seen like Terminal Invasion) easier to enjoy.
I love any actor who’s willing to poke fun at themselves and deflate their perceived image whenever possible, and in his newest flick, My Name Is Bruce, Campbell pokes long and hard, and does a whole lot of deflating. Playing a sleazy version of himself–jackass on set, living in a beat-up trailer and drinking Shemp Whiskey out of his dog Sam’nRob’s (one of the many homages within the film to friends, associates and others during his long and storied career) bowl–this Campbell is at the lowest point in his life, making a sequel to CaveAlien, the crappiest film in his crappy career. About to fire his agent (Ted Raimi, brother of Evil Dead and Spider-Man director Sam), Bruce is lulled into a false hope that his agent has bigger and better things in store for him when he’s told a big “surprise” awaits him on his birthday. Shortly thereafter, Bruce is approached by Jeff (Taylor Sharpe), a teenager who tries to convince him to come to the small town of Gold Lick, which is being menaced by a vengeful Chinese demon/warrior god named Guan-di (played by James Peck, and based on the actual legendary Chinese warrior/deity Guan Yu). When Bruce refuses, Jeff abducts him.
Finally let out of Jeff’s car trunk, Bruce is at first ready to sue the townsfolk, until he catches a glimpse of Jeff’s hottie mom, Kelly (Grace Thorsen). Thinking this whole Guan-di thing might be a more upscale flick set up by his agent (and very much wanting to get into Kelly’s pants), Bruce decides to play along…little knowing the menace of Guan-di is very real, and that the townsfolk–identifying him a bit too closely with his kick-ass Evil Dead character Ash–expect him to face down the warrior deity and save their town.
My Name Is Bruce proudly displays its B-movie pedigree on its sleeve–the blatant fake background behind cars when they drive, the obvious dummies attempting to pass for beheaded corpses, the fact that teenagers seeking sexual congress in graveyards are distinct wrongdoers who must be punished–and is more of a fun ride for it. In some ways, it has no choice: shot for a budget of just $1.5 million, and having its widest release in only four theaters (thus amassing not even $200,000 as of this writing), the guerilla-style nature which Campbell as director (he also produced the film) was forced to employ would do Ed Wood proud…and believe me, in this case that’s actually a compliment.
The acting from the primary thespians–relative newcomer Thorsen (Pastor Greg, Sixes and the One Eyed King) in particular–is highly professional, although Sharpe as Jeff (plucked from local theater in Oregon and making his film debut here) seems uncertain at first, yet quickly gets his “film legs” under him as the movie progresses. Still, the film is carried squarely on Campbell’s shoulders, who appears to be having the time of his life, and he does the job ably.
Extras on the DVD are strictly hit-or-miss. The behind-the-scenes documentary Heart of Dorkness and the feature-length commentary by Campbell and producer Mike Richardson (Hellboy II: The Golden Army, 30 Days of Night) are both fascinating to watch and listen to, and each is highly informative in its own way. To offset their budgetary costs, Campbell (who lives in Oregon) chose to build the entire town facade on his own property, and pooled actors from the local talent. In recent Hollywood memory, only Clint Eastwood has gone out of his way to populate his cast with unknown actors for authenticity’s sake. The result, Gran Torino, was highly successful partly because of it. Campbell is more knowledgeable of cinematic history than most of his peers, and in relation to his own career of course, there are dozens of homages to his work and others within the film, some of which may be spotted by casual film fans but most by the severely faithful. Although the feature commentary is mostly lighthearted, Campbell and Richardson grow mildly serious when discussing a particular point in the movie which noted filmmaker John Landis (Animal House, An American Werewolf in London) tried to say the two men stole from him. Richardson cites a film from 1932 that used this particular device first. Take that, Landis!
The little skits Awkward Moments With Kif, Kif’s Corner and Love Birds could have been done away with. The fake documentaries The Hard Truth, Beyond Inside the Cave: The Making of CaveAlien 2 (the fake movie within the movie) and the trailer for CaveAlien 2 provide some nice chuckles. Bruce On… provides some nice fluff about the film’s budget. There are segments on artwork for the fake posters within the movie, as well as prop art and other photo galleries. The DVD also comes with a 24 page Dark Horse comic which gives a bit of backstory to the film.
All in all, while the Evil Dead films will be the ones for which Bruce Campbell will one day be remembered, My Name Is Bruce will likely become a gem held close to the hearts of the faithful for years to come. For some fun, stupid laughs and enjoyable B-movie grins, it just can’t be beat.