Even the most die-hard Bruce Campbell fans often approach the actor's latest films with trepidation. You never know whether you're going to end up watching something sublime and smart like Bubba Ho-Tep, or something that is ... not, like Alien Apocalypse. My Name is Bruce may be selling out quickly on its tour where actor/director Campbell is traveling with the film to promote it, but that doesn't mean anything ... some people would watch him read the phone book. It was a relief to discover that My Name is Bruce is a bundle of good cheesy fun. The gags tend to work, the storyline is eye-rollingly ridiculous but rarely dull, and Campbell is at his lovably jerky best.
Campbell plays Bruce Campbell -- a less successful and more obnoxious version of himself. This Bruce lives in a trailer that has seen better days, yet acts like a numero-uno prima donna on the set of his latest Grade-Z movie, Cave Alien 2. He drunk-dials his ex-wife, he shares bottles of cheap booze with his dog, he hangs out in topless-dancing bars. Meanwhile, a small town is being tormented by an ancient Chinese ghost, and the teenager responsible for unleashing the spirit is the world's biggest Bruce Campbell fan. He convinces the townspeople that they should kidnap Bruce and bring him to their town to play the hero.
It's tempting to compare this movie to JCVD, which I saw earlier this year, in which Jean-Claude Van Damme plays a version of himself. JCVD is a darker and more complex film, with some grounding in reality -- the events in that movie could plausibly happen. But My Name is Bruce is an unsophisticated spoof of horror films and action heroes and fandom, about as subtle as a skeleton-finger jab to the eye. JCVD reminded me at times of Dog Day Afternoon; My Name is Bruce reminded me of Three Stooges episodes.
My Name is Bruce seems almost old-fashioned in its approach to comedy: basic, broad, and aimed at the obvious.Narration of sorts is provided by a couple of good ol' boys playing banjos and singing a weirdly catchy ballad about the evil Chinese spirit. Pratfalls abound, and visual, physical humor is key. Some of the more stereotypical humor didn't work for me -- I could live a rich and fulfilled life without ever hearing a riff on Brokeback Mountain again, and Ted Raimi's portrayal of a Chinese elder bordered on the offensive. (He was much, much funnier as Bruce's agent.) The special effects are blatantly low-budget, with the bad guy being little more than a scary Halloween mask on strings, but that suits a movie like this.
The story of an obnoxious actor with a cult following whose fans expect heroism instead of mundanity ought to have a wide appeal, but I believe that My Name is Bruce will work best with the actor's own fans. Much of the movie's charm hinges on Campbell's performance, and you have to know something about his previous roles and career to get the full impact of the humor. The film is stuffed with in-jokes for fans of Campbell and the Evil Dead movies. Two of the townspeople are played by Dan Hicks (from Evil Dead 2) and Timothy Patrick Quill (from Army of Darkness). Bruce's ex-wife is played by Ellen Sandweiss, who was in Evil Dead. And Ted Raimi has not one but three roles in this one. Even Bruce's cheap booze has a Shemp logo on it, a tribute not only to the Stooges but to Sam Raimi.
I also think expectations are key for enjoying this film. I was prepared for another Man with the Screaming Brain, and when I heard that most of the actors were local recruits from small-town Oregon, anticipated the kind of awkward, often Ed Wood-ish acting you see in super-low-budget films. But fortunately, the actors handle their parts capably -- I especially liked the female lead -- and while the writing may depend on broad comedy, that comedy generally succeeds. Don't expect another Bubba Ho-Tep; think more along the lines of the better comic episodes of Hercules and Xena and you're unlikely to be disappointed. My Name is Bruce pokes fun at Campbell's B-movies while at the same time being unashamedly a B-movie itself, and works on that level.
Check out Cinematical's interview with Bruce Campbell about My Name is Bruce and other topics.