My Name Is Bruce Review
In Heart of Dorkness, the making-of that accompanies this film, writer Mark Verheiden and Mike Richardson agree that no one but Bruce Campbell could star in their art-mirrors-life movie about a B-movie actor that gets kidnapped by their biggest fan to fight a real-life Chinese god. They're probably right. He's certainly the only Bruce that could do it. Bruce Lee is dead. Bruce Willis disqualified himself after the hissy fit he threw when French moviegoers giggled their way through his long and very drawn-out goodbye from Armagedddon. Bruce Dern? Crazy enough perhaps but well enough known outside of fans of biker-movies? There aren't very many non-Bruce movie stars who could have starred in this film either. Charlie Sheen might have got away with My Name Is Charlie or David Hasselhoff in My Name Is David but neither have quite the cachet with the cult movie fan that Bruce Campbell does. Fighting the Chinese god of bean curd seems like a natural fit for the man they call The Chin.
The Chinese god of bean curd is exactly what Bruce Campbell (playing himself) ends up doing when young Jeff (Taylor Sharpe) raising Guan-di from his resting place at the bottom of an old mine near the town of Gold Lick. Soon, Guan-di is parting some members of the community from their heads, hands and major organs. Bearing some responsibility for his actions, Jeff sets out in his car to find the one man who can fight the god of war...Bruce Campbell. Unfortunately, Campbell is otherwise occupied making Cave Alien 2, dodging alimony payments to his ex-wife Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss), firing his agent Mills Toddner (Ted Raimi) and guzzling down Shemp's Old Time Whiskey while watching a where-are-they-now feature on himself on a cable entertainment. That doesn't stop Jeff, who clocks Campbell over the head, bundles him in the boot of his car and heads back to Gold Lick on the bumpiest road in all fifty states.
Somewhat surprised by the night's events but believing his kidnapping to be a surprise birthday party thrown by Mills, Campbell settles nicely into Gold Lick. He enjoys the lavish amounts of food served at the local bar, dances with, and leers over, Jeff's beautiful mother Kelly (Grace Thorsen) and picks out a gun to keep up with what he thinks is make-believe. But with a, "What the fuck is that?" Campbell realises that Guan-di is very real indeed. Hightailing back to his trailer and to a party with his agent's real present, a singing prostitute (), Campbell runs, bicycles and drives away from Guan-di as quickly as he can. Is this the time for Campbell to put Cave Alien 2 behind him and become a real-life hero? It's mano-a-monster but that man is Bruce Campbell and the monster is only the Chinese god of bean curd. Groovy!
Without complicating the issue by naming a lot of Bruce Campbell films that few, myself included, have ever actually seen, My Name Is Bruce is for the cult movie fan who gets a warm glow at Campbell's goofy, sleazy and ultimately hard bitten demon-killer Ash from Evil Dead II. Campbell was so almightily cool in that movie that any numbskull film star who throws out action-movie lines like, "Then lets head down into that cellar and carve ourselves a witch!", "Swallow this!" and "You're goin' down...chainsaw!" shouldn't just owe Campbell a thank you in the end credits but ought to donate their salary, billing and entire career to Bruce Campbell. And he was funny too. And so damn good-looking that even heterosexual old me would let him go to first base, maybe second, should we ever date.
My Name Is Bruce is made for the cult movie fan who can spot the reprise of the 'possessed hand' Ash in Campbell's gurning while drinking liquor and think it deliberate. Who can get the in-joke with Shemp's Old Time Whiskey, spot a few familiar looking faces and say, "Isn't that...?" and to know who Campbell's hooch-drinking pooch is named after. But neither is it all in-jokes for the Evil Dead crowd though, something that Campbell admits on the commentary. It's a wickedly funny film, sending up men-in-a-mask monsters, the hopeless movies that deluge the straight-to-disc market and, most of all, himself. What we see of Cave Alien 2 is Campbell in excelsis, the lead actor in a movie in which he and his co-star glance down at the floor searching for their marks, slap one another as a precursor to a lusty bout of kissing and are threatened by cave aliens who leap about with abandon, the monofilament support wires glinting in the studio lights. This Campbell is a boozy, self-obsessed, whiskey-soaked fool who's disliked by all those on the set, even to a runner who fills his soda bottle with piss. Not even his fans are pleasant to him but he responds in kind before returning home, getting drunk on hooch and being kidnapped.
The scenes in Gold Lick take My Name Is Bruce far away from just being a spoof of dollars-and-cents movie-making. Campbell gets to wonder aloud about these inbred hicks telling real life and movie life apart, assumes they're all in on a joke that is being told with each passing minute in Gold Lick and in one of the film's funniest scenes, finds himself in an Alan Partridge-styled homage to himself from his biggest fan. He gets the win the hand of prettiest girl in the town but does so with a succession of cheap lines that wouldn't have been out of place had they come from the mouth of The Heel. All too late he realises that Guan-di is real. His own cowardice is revealed in his running away from the monster, shooting wildly behind him and hitting not Guan-di but a bystander and stealing a bike from a kid out cycling late at night before tossing an old woman and her cat out of her car, driving off in it and then cussing her for not putting enough gas in it. And still the laughs come, particularly so in his almost getting away with insulting the town before realising that the truck he's hitched a lift on isn't going anywhere.
Bubba Ho Tep was slightly disappointing for not being quite silly enough to make good on its premise. So such criticism can be made of My Name Is Bruce. This is a film that revels in silliness, be it Guan-di himself, the parps and squealing brakes that accompany Campbell's ass-grabbing or Campbell attracting the attention of Guan-di with a life size cut-out of himself. Campbell is the perfect clown throughout, able to do physical comedy, cheap gags and lead-with-the-chin heroics. Only in its ending does My Name Is Bruce let itself down slightly, with the middling criticism of the it's-not-really-over shock ending not really giving the film any proper sense of closure.
However, what's genuinely great about this film is watching it, then listening to the commentary and realising that Campbell did all this in his home state of Oregon. He cast locals, built the town of Gold Lick on his own land, used a nearby movie studio for the interiors and placed Got Wood? adverts in his county's paper for the sheets of wood needed for the movie. The film's cars are whatever vehicles they could lay their hands on, regardless of whether or not they actually worked, which were glued, spit on and taped together to hold out long enough for My Name Is Bruce to wrap. Who knows if we'll see any of these actors again but Campbell is to be congratulated for making a movie that is not only a piercing send-up of himself and the funniest homage to the cheap-as-chips end of Hollywood but may actually encourage some of the kids here to make a go of acting and head west. That probably doesn't happen often enough and while it may have been comfort and commerce that drove Campbell to make his film with a local cast and crew, it suggests that behind the cheap grin and the even cheaper gags is a man who has done some genuine good for his home town. My Name Is Still Bruce can't come soon enough.
The pity is that as good as the film is, the DVD transfer leaves a lot to be desired. Clearly, Campbell didn't have an enormous budget at his disposal but whoever was responsible for this could have made more of an effort, if not for the money then at least to have shown some pride it their work. The interlacing is so obvious that even my own myopia saw through it. Nowhere is it more obvious than in the slow-motion glance at Kelly Graham that introduces the character. No viewer needs to pause this to see the effect when the DVD leaves a shadow of her arm hanging in the air for a brief moment, complete with jagged lines. Elsewhere, the picture encoding breaks down but the bigger problem is the lack of sharpness in the picture. Unless this is driving its audience to Blu-Ray, My Name Is Bruce really shouldn't look this bad on DVD.
The audio tracks are fine, doing a good job of Guan-di's thundering and growling whilst also carrying the dialogue. There is some difference between the DD2.0 and the DD5.1, with a little use of the rear channels in the former but slightly better separation in the former. But the lack of an entirely pointless DTS track on an Anchor Bay release seems as though something is missing. Finally, there are English subtitles.
Commentary: Some people make for a good commentary. If you ever get to hear a John Carpenter/Kurt Russell track, such as that of The Thing, you're in for a treat. But no one records a better commentary than Bruce Campbell, whose name on the credits is better than finding out there's a £20 note folded up inside the DVD case. He's alongside producer Mark Richardson here and while there's some repetition between this and Heart of Dorkness on the second disc, it's still a richly funny commentary, full of typical Bruce Campbell gags at his own expense and at his movie-making. Richardson is good company for Campbell, setting up a couple of gags, but the track is overall a pleasure to listen to.
Heart of Dorkness (60m04s): Mark Verheiden and Mike Richardson open this making-of with a reveal of where they took their idea from, a comic book in which Alan Ladd is kidnapped from a movie set to fight pirates based on his recent pirate-fighting movie. Thereafter, it's a comfy-feeling feature on how My Name Is Bruce went from that first idea, to which Verheiden and Richardson agreed that no one but Bruce Campbell could do it justice, to the shoot in Oregon and on to the last day on the set. Given its length, it takes in a lot of the production, perhaps not on a day-by-day basis but we get to hear about the problems with the mechanical equipment, Campbell's hauling in of his old Super 8 and Evil Dead friends and the fun they had with poison oak. There are touches of good humour throughout this feature, including Campbell's explanation of the plot being interrupted by an onscreen apology for, "...Mr Campbell's long, drawn-out, tedious and, quite frankly, boring description of the film!"
Everything else on the disc is rather short compared to these to main extras. Awkward Moments with 'Kif' (2m00s) is exactly that, a couple of examples of Kif (Craig Sanborn) espousing on some issue completely unrelated to the movie. Waxing Philosophical with Bruce Campbell (4m09s) finds the actor/director offering his thoughts of the budget of his film and what you ought to do (and ought not to do) when fighting a bear or a cougar. Not even a thousand punches to the face will take down a cougar! Next up is Shempco Films' proud presentation of the trailer for Cave Alien 2 (1m39s), which is then followed by a Behind The Scenes of Cave Alien 2 (8m02s). Or Ka-Valian as director Mike GG calls it.
Kif's Korner (2m34s) finds the associate producer mocking up movie posters and DVD covers for the movie. These posters, such as those for Death of the Dead and The Stoogitive, are then presented in Poster Art (1m51s). Likewise Prop Arts (59s) does the same for some of the movie's props, like Shemp's Old Time Whiskey and the script for the eagerly awaited Cave Alien III: Rave in the Cave! Stills from the movie are up next (1m43s) before it returns to the cast and crew's thoughts on Bruce Campbell (3m48s). And they're not good. "I let him play with my pistols!" That's not said to Bruce Campbell, or about him, but by Frank (Tim Quill) to Dirt Farmer (Dan Hicks) in this loving look at their relationship (1m07s). Finally, there is a trailer for My Name Is Bruce (2m12s).