Friday, February 20, 2009

"My Name is Bruce"

My Name is Bruce
starring Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi, Taylor Sharpe
written by Mark Verheiden
directed by Bruce Campbell

With nothing better to do in the small town of Goldlick, Oregon, four teens decide to vandalize the local cemetery for kicks. As they traipse around smashing wooden headstones, Jeff (Taylor Sharpe) notices a gold medallion on one of the crypts. He steals it and accidentally releases a demon named Guan-Di (James J. Peck), the Chinese god of death. Jeff barely escapes with his life as Guan-Di slaughters his three friends.

Meanwhile in Tinseltown, Jeff’s favorite actor Bruce Campbell (himself) is on the set of his latest straight to DVD, low budget, B action cheese, Cave Alien 2. All is not well for our titular thespian, as his co-stars can’t stand him, the director is less than enthusiastic about the project, and the set runner likes to pee in Bruce’s water. To make matters worse, Bruce is still recovering from a recent divorce, and his agent (Ted Raimi) insists there is no credible work in the near future for him. But he does promise a big birthday surprise is on the way. By the way, Bruce’s agent is sleeping with his ex, unbeknownst to Bruce.

So Bruce retires to his run down trailer to drink himself into a lonely stupor (like me on my last birthday) when Jeff shows up. (Is it this easy to find any actor’s home address? I’d like to drop in on Gabrielle Anwar.) In Bruce’s drunken state, Jeff has little trouble subduing him, locking him in the trunk of his car and driving all the way to Goldlick. The denizens welcome the actor with open arms in anticipation that he can help fight the demon that now terrorizes their town.

Bruce sees this as a set up; the birthday surprise from his agent. A live action, personal appearance that promises some money and a different sort of publicity, so he takes full advantage of the town’s hospitality. He scarfs down pounds of barbeque ribs at the buffet in his honor, drinks a king’s ransom in beer, and helps himself to all weapons offered by the local sporting goods store. So Bruce leads the ragtag volunteer army of townsfolk to the cemetery for the climax of what he still believes is a show. Once he realizes Guan-Di is in fact, a real, vengeful demon, Bruce flees in cowardice, leaving his brethren behind to be slaughtered.

This was not Bruce Campbell’s first time directing, producing and certainly not acting. I assume he has a better feel for a good script or even a funny joke than me. So my biggest surprise while viewing My Name is Bruce was how Campbell signed off on this script. Obviously it’s not an original idea. We all remember 1986’s Three Amigos! which was moderately humorous and, at least in my memory, the first story that put fictional actors in a position where they had to portray their fictional, fictional characters in a fictional, real-life dangerous situation.

The concept reached funnier heights in 1999 with Galaxy Quest and has been revisited again by Jean-Claude Van Damme in JCVD. The only original tangent Bruce and JCVD took are, Campbell and Van Damme are portraying themselves, rather than fictional celebrities. I don’t know if JCVD is intended to be a comedy, my instincts tell me no, based on what I’ve read. My Name is Bruce tries to be funny, but fails badly. So I’ll ask again: why did Bruce Campbell look at this script and say “Let’s do it, baby.”?

Campbell’s career should supply enough source material to fill the gaps in this particular formula, but writer Mark Verheiden limits his pickings to Campbell’s trademark one-liners and makes the point to mention the title of every film Campbell has starred in. The one-liners were funny once, in a certain context when spoken by Campbell. But here, they are lazily peppered throughout the film without discernable rhyme or reason and are spoken by whichever random supporting character happens to be onscreen at the time.

I’m also disappointed in how Campbell portrays himself. The man is an icon in this wacky business and has a strong cult following. He has no trouble getting work, and is actually currently doing a great job on TV’s Burn Notice, one of TV’s most popular shows on air. But to imagine a world (albeit fictional) where he lives in a run down trailer, is hated by his peers and is a sloppy, downtrodden drunk is very depressing. So right from the start, there is a “feel-bad” feel to the film whether you like Bruce Campbell or not. Add to the fact that he’s supposedly gullible enough to believe the rubes of Goldlick see him as a savior doesn’t exactly paint a flattering picture of our hero, either.

The townsfolk aren’t exactly a gaggle of brain surgeons, although they do understand that this is not really the “Ash” from the Evil Dead movies (and this is the only other point that makes Bruce different from Three Amigos! and Galaxy Quest). They recognize and understand Campbell is not really a demon fighting super hero, but rather plays one in the movies. But yet they still believe him qualified to do exactly that? Stupid rubes.

Which brings me to the demon, Guan-Di. Visually he’s neither menacing nor even impressive. It’s obvious he’s a Chinese god, as he’s dressed in ceremonial Chinese warrior armor, sports a big sword, and has a fu-manchu mustache (thus making the musical back-story of Guan-Di from the balladeering mayor [Ben McCain] and sheriff [Tim Quill, I think] as completely unnecessary as it is unentertaining). The costume is not scary despite the red glowing eyes. In short, Guan-Di looks like a doofus. He also loses scary points when we discover that the Chinese god of death moonlights as the Chinese god of bean curd (!). Yes, bean curd. A stupid plot device dumped on us early to facilitate a quick resolution during the end game later on. Means to an end, as it were.

But Guan-Di’s dopiness gives Campbell the director a chance to shine, and he shows some prowess. Guan-Di’s onscreen moments are shot in a way that almost fully negates the unimpressive costume through varying angles, creative lighting and use of fog machine. Still, one can’t help but laugh out loud at first glimpse of the bad guy. Honestly, he’s not scary at all, but the gore in his killings effectively demonstrate how eeeeviiiilll Guan-Di is, so mission accomplished. The overall look of the film is tight and the production designers deserve props for the cool-looking cemetery and quaint-looking town of Goldlick.

As far as performances go, let’s just say that whoever did the casting should be hung. The only shining star is Ted Raimi (!) as he takes three different roles, all of which are implemented admirably by the “other” Raimi, and of course, Campbell is Campbell. After that nobody is memorable.

We all owe something to Bruce Campbell for the oodles of entertainment he’s provided. So if renting My Name is Bruce puts a little extra coin in his pocket, do it. Just don’t expect a lot of entertainment value, or even laughs for your buck.

Coming soon to Turzman central:
my critique of The Inglorious Bastards (1978).

NOT coming soon to Turzman Central:
My critique of Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.

I watched it for the first time last night and I wondered, "What the f*ck's the big deal about this sh*tty movie?"

Can someone explain it to me?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Post Birthday Sobriety

The haze has lifted, and although I am still bitter about my birthday and Valentines Day, etc, I am obligated to publicly thank two wonderful ladies.
First, my good friend Tams who, of all the people I know was the only one to contact me for b-day greetings, save the Facebook and MySpace comments. So on that dreary night when, through a scotch induced fog of self pity, Tams appeared to me via e-mail and we chatted for about an hour. She brought me up out of the dumps.
The other lady dear to my heart is the lovely KT, who would have called me on my birthday had she not had to work all night that night. But we have been chatting almost nightly and if not for her, I don't think I would believe it were possible for women to have souls.

The most important lesson I learned last weekend?
Some people actually care.

So in honor of Tams & KT, I post this picture of a P-51C Mustang that I built all by myself...

While I'm at it, here is a picture of my magnificent Carcaradon Megalodon tooth...

And my non store-bought, home made birthday cake...

Internet addict PornoCat says, "I chat with women every night so I don't get what the big deal is. And at only $2.99 a minute, it's still cheaper than dinner and a movie."

Amity Island Harbor Master Frank Silva says, "I'm not interested in a woman unless she has fins, gills and a belly full of roe that can get me at least $7.00 a pound at the fish market."