>> My Name Is Bruce (5/10)

A month or so ago, I saw the film JCVD, a meta-fictonal crime drama starring Jean-Claude Van Damme as himself.  Van Damme, once a bonafide worldwide superstar, lays his soul bare in the film, causing me to re-evaluate Van Damme’s worth as a performer, and serving as a strong reminder of just exactly why he was ever famous in the first place.  Actor Bruce Campbell has never been that famous.  He’s achieved a sort of cult godhood based on the popularity of the Evil Dead series of films, but, to most folks, he’s barely a familiar face.  With his new film, My Name is Bruce, Campbell goes meta-fictional, playing himself as an actor-come-monster-slayer, and, unfortunately, reminds us exactly why he’s never been a big-time movie star in the process.

It’s a noble attempt by Campbell to give his fans what he thinks they want–Bruce Campbell as the arrogant, loutish, yet reluctant hero, spouting quotable cornball dialogue in the face of supernatural danger.  The actor is called upon by a teenage Bruce Campbell mega-fan to fight an angry Chinese demon who threatens to destroy a tiny Oregon community.  The actor of course assumes that everyone in the town is part of an elaborate piece of living theatre, all part of a show to celebrate Campbell’s birthday.  I think every single film Bruce Campbell has ever appeared in is referenced at some point, and the common thread in most of them, this very movie included, is that they generally aren’t good.

This film is also missing a sense of perspective, since Campbell created the project along with writer Mark Verheiden for himself to direct and star in.  Campbell assumes some things about his fans that aren’t necessarily true (that they love bad movies, for one), and forgets that the movies that made him almost famous are fueled by a sense of inventiveness and creativity that is just not on display here.  True, Campbell as a director is no Sam Raimi, but this love letter to his fan base feels more like pandering, more like creating a marketable product, than a way of saying thank you to the fans.  Man can not live on groovy one-liners alone.  My Name is Bruce fails in large part because it’s made by Bruce Campbell, ensuring nothing but an empty self-parody for ninety minutes, at the expense of everything else, including any scene he’s not in and any logic the plot should have.

Bruce Campbell’s got charisma going for him, though.  He’s always watchable, no matter how lousy his movies might be.  He’s almost the only watchable thing here, save for curvaceous Grace Thorsen, playing Campbell’s love interest, the widowed mother of the mega fan that brings Campbell to their sleepy town.  Her role is terrible (she thinks Campbell is a self-obsessed twit, but falls for him anyways because he’s a lousy dancer just like her), but she’s not bad.  Ted Raimi appears in three roles, including one that throws down the gauntlet to Rob Schnieder in regards to portraying heavily made-up Asian stereotypes.  It’s racist, sure, but the real crime here is that it isn’t funny.

The only audience for My Name is Bruce are Bruce Campbell fans, and this might be the movie that separates the men from the boys.  I like Evil Dead enough to own an Ash toy and I like an occasional Bruce Campbell cameo, but I’m not so big a fan that I can forgive any z-grade movie just because he’s in it.  He’s made worse films than My Name is Bruce (much worse), but why should I get excited, or for that matter pay, for a love letter to someone, created by the very subject of that love letter?  With My Name is Bruce, he attempts to give the fans what they want, as long as they will give him what he wants, which is apparently their hard-earned cash, not their respect for his body of work.  It’s a lazy, self-serving film disguised as a fanboy in-joke.  It wants to be a playful reminder of what makes Bruce Campbell cool, but it only really reminds you that you’ve liked him more in better movies.

5 on a 1 to 10 scale

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