Last year, between the two of us, we watched an average of 317 movies.
This year our goal is to top that by watching at least one a day.
And as an extra special torture, we've decided to write about all of them.

27 November 2008

My Name is Bruce

Director: Bruce Campbell
Writer: Mark Verheiden
Released: 2007
Cast: Bruce Campbell, Grace Thorsen, Taylor Sharpe, Ted Raimi

STEVE says: Bruce Campbell's My Name is Bruce was not all that I'd hoped it would be, but it was pretty much exactly what I'd expected. And that's kinda sad because, while I was hoping for something Damn Good to Excellent, my expectations hovered around Average to Good.

Campbell is playing "himself" here, kidnapped by a young fan and taken to the small town of Gold Lick, Oregon (population 339 and dwindling), where he is coerced by the townsfolk into defending them from the Chinese demon, Guan-Di, accidentally unleashed by a bunch of unwitting teens. It's a spin on The Three Amigos! and Galaxy Quest, where it's assumed that, because someone fights evil in the movies, one can do the same in real life - and it's fun. Add to the mix Campbell taking the piss out of himself and his B-movie status, and you've got what should be a solid B-movie in its own right.

So what went wrong?

Too Many Fanboy References, for one thing. This movie was clearly "one for the fans", but that shouldn't mean it alienates those who perhaps aren't as conversant with Campbell's career. The kid who kidnaps him, Jeff, is a Bruce Campbell fanatic: His room is wall-to-wall with posters from Campbell's movies, promotional items for his book, action figures, and even a mannequin wearing Brisco County's gear; his wardrobe consists of Evil Dead and Bubba Ho-Tep t-shirts; and his vocabulary is made up of hero lines from Campbell's movies. Nice, but there's no indication that Jeff is even aware of anyone else involved in the horror genre. True fanboys will delight in seeing Dan Hicks and Timothy Patrick Quill reference their characters from Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness, respectively, but for those who don't recognize them, the dialog is pointless, and the joke falls flat. It seems that Campbell - and moreover, screenwriter Mark Verheiden - have ignored the wider audience, making the movie for a select group of cult followers.

It didn't help that the version of "himself" that Campbell decided to portray goes contrary to what fans already know about him. When William Shatner played "Bill" in Free Enterprise, for example, he was taking on a persona that at first amplified the stereotype he's associated with (tough guy, anti-fan, woman-magnet), and then broke that stereotype down in the end. He was playing with a perceived image, and whether that image had any corelation to his actual personality is neither here nor there. Campbell plays himself as kind of mean-spirited dick - big-noting in front of fans, chastising cast and crew, yet lonely and pathetic when he's at home - but his accessibility at conventions and screenings across the country has allowed fans a familiarity beyond mere perception, so that when he gets obnoxious or makes a wise-crack at a fan, it's never seen as anything but good-natured. Choosing to play himself as an asshole when he's known to be the opposite only distances us from the character.

Verheiden will have to take a lot of the blame for this. His script leaves a lot of room for Campbell to mug for the camera, sass the locals (thankfully leaving his Stooges schtick behind), and try to woo Jeff's mom, but offers little in the way of suspense, character or plot development. Instead, Guin-Di shows up randomly to decapitate some locals, Bruce and Kelly hate each other for five minutes, then fall in love, and the audience is filled in on back story by way of a country song by the mayor and the sheriff. I kid you not.

Which is not to say that the movie sucked. I liked it. I had fun with it. Largely because Campbell had fun with it. He knows he's not an A-list star, and he embraces that fact. With My Name is Bruce, he's making fun of himself, and thanking his legions of fans at the same time. I only wish he'd taken it seriously, rather than played it for a joke.


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