If you’ve seen Bruce Campbell at a — Wait a minute. Do you know who Bruce Campbell is? No? Then skip this movie and this review. Noobs to the left, primitive screwheads to the right. I’m talkin’ to the primitive screwheads, so go listen to a Jonas Brothers CD or something, and let the rest of us talk about Bruce’s new movie.
Anyway, if you’ve seen Bruce Campbell at a signing or Q&A event, you’re familiar with his sarcastic, no-bullshit attitude towards his career and his fans. Someone in the audience will sputter a query Bruce has heard a thousand times (“Will there be an Evil Dead 4, Mr. Campbell, sir?”), Campbell will roll his eyes and sneer something like “I dunno, Sparky, go ask Sam, okay? Gee, I’ve never been asked that before,” and the fans will whoop and guffaw. They expect no less from the man. And if you have seen Bruce Campbell in such a setting, your odds of enjoying the Chin’s second directorial outing, My Name Is Bruce, are much better. Really, though, anyone who digs Campbell and his particular I’m-a-B-movie-asshole-and-damn-proud-of-it persona should find something in the flick to like.
In this meta-comedy, Campbell plays Bruce Campbell, an alcoholic dickwad living in a trailer, suffering through a divorce, and showing up on the sets of direct-to-video shit in order to make alimony payments. (The actual Bruce Campbell is married with kids, and his career’s going pretty well at the moment, thanks for asking — he’s got a nice gig on the surprise hit show Burn Notice.) Campbell is playing a farcical nightmare version of himself, and having a ball doing it. You get to see him abusing dumb-ass fanboys, which is always good for a laugh, but he also mercilessly takes the piss out of his own place in geek-fandom.
It’s this funhouse-mirror Bruce who gets drawn into a supernatural adventure not far from his trailer. Some teenagers have awakened Guan-Di, a Chinese god guarding a mine shaft where Chinese workers once died; three-quarters of the teens are summarily dispatched, and the lone survivor — Jeff (the feminine-looking Taylor Sharpe), a die-hard Bruce fan — escapes and kidnaps Bruce, convinced that only he has the stuff to rid the tiny town of Goldlick of the wrathful god. Thinking that the whole thing is a birthday surprise via his agent (Ted Raimi, in one of three roles), Bruce agrees to play “the hero” — until he discovers that Guan-Di is quite real, at which point he fills the seat of his pants.
Like Campbell’s previous effort behind the camera (The Man with the Screaming Brain), My Name Is Bruce is an amiably goofy affair, filled with slapstick and politically incorrect humor (the scripter is Mark Verheiden, a longtime writer for Dark Horse comics, whose film company produced the movie). Loaded with in-jokes (for instance, Bruce’s ex-wife is played by original Evil Dead actress Ellen Sandweiss), it’s a movie for the fans, which explains why some critics have greeted it with a shrug. Aside from the in-joke casting, most of the onscreen faces are relatively new to film, the stand-out being Grace Thorsen as a comely townie Bruce has his eye on.
Campbell, with these films, seems to want to recreate and keep alive the filmmaking conditions that built his career: go in, get it done fast and cheap, have fun. He tours with the films he directs, gladhands the public, takes whatever gigs come his way (including the mock-cool Old Spice campaign he did a couple years back). He has never particularly wanted to hit it big in Hollywood, because he’s fine where he is; he’s an industry unto himself. Though, like any low-budget flick, it’s obviously the result of blood, sweat and more blood, My Name Is Bruce wants you to believe that Campbell just sort of farted and out came this movie. It’s light, unpretentious as hell, and as caustically amusing as the man himself.