My Name Is Bruce | Inhuman Swill | William Shunn


My Name Is Bruce

This film review was originally published online at Science Fiction Weekly, December 1, 2008.

Lonely goth teen Jeff Graham (Sharpe) is the world’s biggest fan of Bruce Campbell (Campbell). Sadly, no one else in the small town of Gold Lick, Oregon, shares his obsession with the schlock-cinema icon, which hasn’t helped him much with the opposite sex. Determined to fix this, his best friend drags him in the middle of the night to the remote burial ground of Chinese laborers killed long ago in a mine cave-in. The two girls who meet them there are less than impressed by the clumsy come-ons Jeff cribs from the Evil Dead movies, but that’s not the worst the night has in store. Their desecration of the graveyard awakens the vengeful warrior god Guan-di, and only Jeff escapes the attack with his life.

As Guan-di’s gruesome killings mount, the town lies terrified and helpless. Feeling responsible, Jeff drives to California to recruit the only expert he knows in fighting evil incarnate: Bruce Campbell himself. The man he finds, though, is a divorced, self-obsessed lout who lives in a dirty trailer, shares cheap whiskey with his dog, and despises the movies that made his career. Campbell rudely refuses Jeff’s entreaties, which leaves the desperate teen no choice but to hit him over the head with a baseball bat and haul him back to Gold Lick in the trunk of his car.

Though angry at first at being kidnapped by what he assumes is a crazed fan, Campbell changes his tune when the townspeople greet him as a hero and a liberator. Believing the scenario to have been concocted as an elaborate birthday prank by his agent Mills (Raimi), the actor takes more than full advantage of the town’s hospitality—which includes sleazily hitting on Jeff’s skeptical mother Kelly (Thorsen), owner of the local honkytonk. Only when he leads a posse into the woods to confront Guan-di does the cowardly Campbell discover how real the menace to Gold Lick is—and how lethal.

The cream of Campbell’s corn

If you can, see this film during Bruce Campbell’s nationwide promotional tour. The spirited Q&A sessions that follow, which feature Campbell hectoring himself and his adoring audiences in equal measure, are at least as entertaining as the movie.

Let’s be honest. By any reasonable standard of moviemaking, My Name Is Bruce is terrible. The production values are poor, the blocking and camera setups are hackneyed, the acting and pacing lack urgency in general, the monster isn’t all that scary, and the ending stinks. But how can reasonable standards of moviemaking apply when Bruce Campbell is directing himself in a wry sendup of his own career and persona? The elements that make a bad horror flick truly bad are precisely the point.

Though Campbell directs, produces, and stars, it’s hard to call this a vanity project. For one thing, he’s utterly fearless in portraying himself as a bitter, drunken boor so malignly egocentric that he can’t see how he’s alienated friends, family, and colleagues alike. That he does so with unflagging caddish charm not only imbues the movie with a cheerful buoyancy but also illustrates the qualities that made his long career possible in the first place. A very funny Bruce Campbell sails through this corny schlockfest with his celebrated chin held high.

The witty script by Mark Verheiden knowingly dissects the tropes of corny low-budget horror, at the same time mining Campbell’s extensive catalog for references only true fans will appreciate. From the moment Taylor Sharpe declares the amulet that frees Guan-di “groovy,” to the sardonic references to filmmaking in Bulgaria, to the chainsaw that doesn’t quite become a plot element, to the presence of original “Fake Shemp” Ted Raimi (brother of Sam), audiences in on the joke will find a movie tuned to their own demented wavelength. That insularity, and the general lack of polish, may at times make broader audiences feel like clueless outsiders. But overall they’ll likely find themselves laughing just as hard as their neighbors at this frequently hilarious concoction.

My Name Is Bruce is not about scaring audiences, or even fooling them into thinking they’ve seen some worthwhile entertainment. It’s about celebrating everything that has made Bruce Campbell perhaps the greatest B-movie actor of all time, and about rewarding the fans who have made that career possible. On that level it succeeds beyond any reasonable expectation.  

My Name Is Bruce
Rated R
Dark Horse Indie and Image Entertainment
Starring Bruce Campbell, Grace Thorsen, Taylor Sharpe, and Ted Raimi
Written by Mark Verheiden
Produced by Mike Richardson and Bruce Campbell
Directed by Bruce Campbell
Open now in Chicago, limited engagements in various cities through December

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