AUGUST 24, 2009
Having learned nothing from Last Action Hero, Bruce Campbell directed and starred in My Name Was Bruce, in which he pokes fun at himself with presumably hilarious results, tied to a plot that doesn’t sound too different than one of his actual movies. And like Hero, it’s a terrific concept that largely falls flat, which is a shame as this could have made up for 15 years’ worth of annoying Army of Darkness quotes.
However, it fails for different reasons. Last Action Hero’s “Jack Slater” films were completely ridiculous and never once believable as a legitimate action movie (thanks to cartoon cats, black and white characters, etc), and having a typical action movie ending in the “real world” didn’t help matters. But at least it was funny, something Bruce never quite achieves. Sure, there are a few decent lines (nearly all of them at the expense of Campbell’s big-screen misfires, such as McHale’s Navy and Serving Sara), but the puns, small-town redneck jokes, and endless mugging just gets tiresome after about 20 minutes. And like Hero, the blending of real Bruce with exaggerated Bruce is distracting; his real movies are mentioned just as often as fake ones, which sort of goes against the point of the concept. We all know that Cavealien is not a real movie - so why keep mentioning it in the same breath with Evil Dead 2 or whatever?
Worse, the comedy completely overshadows the horror element. The monster appears in just three scenes, the first of which is Campbell-free, and in the 2nd he just runs away from it as soon as it appears. I knew it was more of a comedy than a horror film, but the balance is so skewed you could be forgiven if you forget there’s any danger at all (why the monster doesn’t just come into town and kill everyone is never explained). At least if the movie was funny, this would be easier to accept, but that is not the case.
What really sinks it is the confusing concept. I already mentioned the fake vs. real stuff, but there’s also this kid who is Bruce’s biggest fan that makes things even more baffling. The kid (who is all gothed out - yes, all horror fans are goth kids) kidnaps him to have him help save the town - but if the kid is such a fan, wouldn’t he know that the guy is an ACTOR and thus wouldn’t be any more equipped to help them than anyone else? And for a fan, he’s a pretty shitty one - not only does he not know Campbell’s birthday, but he also needs to look at scripts to remember what his movies were about.
I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not a complete disaster. There’s an earnestness to the whole thing that I found charming, and Campbell of course is always worth watching. Cameos from the likes of Ted Raimi and the always welcome Ellen Sandweiss help a bit, as does one of the few genuinely hilarious bits (Bruce keeps shooting the townspeople as he runs away from the monster). But if I had to guess, I would say the script by Mark Verheiden (who has written a lot of great stuff, including several key BSG episodes - but on the other hand, none of it was in the realm of comedy) was much more elaborate in the early stages, and had to be whittled down in order to accommodate the small budget. So I can cut it some slack for that, but again - funny lines don’t cost any more money than bad ones, and it seems making up a bunch of movie posters (and in Cavealien’s case, a full blown scene) would cost more money than just licensing one of his real lesser efforts to use for such situations. So the film as a whole, while not without its moments, is largely a missed opportunity (not to mention that Three Amigos did the whole thing much better 20 years ago).
The DVD is jam-packed, but like the film itself, it’s nowhere near as amusing as the folks making it want it to be. A bunch of random behind the scenes clips (many hidden as Easter eggs) and “hilarious” interviews in which the actors or crew people pretend to hate Campbell are what make up most of the selections, but the real meat of it is the hour long documentary about the film’s production. It’s not a bad piece, but it contains more of that pesky unfunny comedy. For example - they try to liken the film’s production to Apocalypse Now, but it seems the worst things to befall the production are a couple of malfunctioning cars and some bees. In other words, the type of stuff that happens to every movie. Worse, Bruce is always “on” - so his actual insight as a filmmaker (or even an actor) is kept to the barest of minimums; a quick shot of him surveying the damage to his property (the film was shot in the acres surrounding his Oregon home) and muttering “Shit” as he toes a muddy pothole in his driveway is about the closest we get to actual honest behavior from the guy. The rest of the time he’s just flipping people off and interrupting interviews. There is also a commentary track, but this being a Blu-Ray I would have to watch it at home, and I’m sure it largely repeats the same stuff I ‘learned’ from the extra features.
I have been putting off seeing this film for a while, mainly because everyone I knew who saw it said it sucked. But with the Evil Dead trilogy screening at the New Beverly this weekend (I’m going Saturday - join me!), I was in a mood for a new Bruce adventure before shelling out a few bucks to re-watch the ones I’ve seen several times. The shame of it is, I’ll have more fun watching Evil Dead 2 for the 20th time than I did watching My Name Is Bruce once. If you haven’t seen it yet, I recommend reading Bruce’s novel “Make Love The Bruce Campbell Way” instead - it’s a similar blend of fact and fiction, but far more entertaining. And goth free.
What say you?