Jack of All Trades
Bruce Campbell produces, directs, and stars--as "Bruce Campbell"
Charlie Kaufman isn't the only director with a movie in theaters right now tackling life imitating art imitating life. The celebrated screenwriter of Being John Malkvich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is up to his usual bag of metafictional tricks with Syndecdoche, New York, cramming a world of recognizably human foibles into his story of a regional theater director reaching for the sublime. Despite all the quotidian profundities shoehorned into that experience, though, one thing is beyond doubt: at no point in his movie does Kaufman himself battle a Chinese protector god who has a predilection for decapitation.
B-movie action extraordinaire Bruce Campbell does just that in his directorial debut, My Name is Bruce. Campbell plays "Bruce Campbell," a B-movie action hero--star of such hits as Cave Alien and Chinbilly and Dirtface--perhaps past his prime shooting yet another sequel to one of his low-budget franchises, Cave Alien 2. When the cameras are rolling he's the wise-cracking, dimple-chinned star his fans know and love, but once "cut" is called he becomes a boozing, skirt-chasing, obnoxious prick. He berates the cinematographer of this bare-bones crew ("Dude, light me, don't fight me"), rudely orders PAs to get him beverages, and makes clichéd passes at just about anything with boobs younger than he is. His wife left him and has filed for divorce, his dog only likes him when he comes home hammered with a bottle of hooch to share, and his agent thinks a good birthday gift for his client is an almost post-op male-to-female hooker tarted up as a nurse and a deal to shoot Cave Alien 3 and 4 in Bulgaria. He's the kind of guy who will steal a kid's bike and hijack an old woman's car when fleeing danger. No wonder this Bruce regularly hits bottom by diving face first into his dog's liquor-filled bowl and drunk dialing his ex wife.
Fortunately, a teenager in the old mining town of Gold Lick--population 339, and falling--recently disturbed the graves of the Chinese workers killed in an old mining accident back in the day, and in the process raised up the Chinese god Guan-di, the protector of those departed and, well, bean curd. This golden-eyed being is armed with a long blade, and is now prowling Gold Lick and lopping the heads off residents. As luck would have it, the ill-fated teenager who unleashed this plague on the town also happens to be a thermonuclear Bruce Campbell fan, so he kidnaps the actor from his set, plops him in the trunk of his car, and drives him to Gold Lick to help the town rid itself of Guan-di.
Yes, actor Campbell is playing himself in a movie in which the actor "Bruce Campbell" is being called up to play his action-movie self, but don't worry that Campbell has suddenly gone postmodern. Bruce is Campbell's third feature, after cutting his teeth directing such gritty television dramas as Xena: The Warrior Princess, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and the Pamela Anderson's mercenaries classic, V.I.P., and his work here is just as ribald, tongue in cheek, and giddy. Mark Verheiden's script is over-stuffed with movie allusions, groaning punch lines, and other non sequitar verbal and visual jokes. It's not a crude lampoon in the Scary Movie vein, but its clearly aiming for cheeky laughs, and it helps if you're a die-hard fan of Bruce Campbell's, well, oeuvre. Most of the tossed-off jokes refer to previous Campbell movies or the Campbell's fan cult ("It's hard enough to get laid withouth having to explain the whole Bruce Campbell thing," one teen says to another), and even the boozing, flirty, and cowardly Hawaiian-shirt clad "Bruce Campbell" Campbell plays here very much recalls the boozing, flirty, and cowardly Hawaiian-shirt clad Sam Axe he plays in the USA network's Burn Notice
Burce isn't only a Campbell love-in, though, as some of the best gags rely are plain, old-fashioned goofiness. The mayor of Gold Lick shows "Bruce Campbell" a slideshow to explain why Guan-di is in their town, and offers an image of the local newspaper from when the mining accident happened: the story warrants maybe a square half-inch of coverage on the front page. Even better, this tale is recounted in the opening prologue as a jaunty little folk ditty sung by two men, the refrain of which goes, "Guan you, Guan me, Guan-di." And Bruce may be the only movie ever made in which tofu becomes an integral part of the climatic final battle. So while My Name is Bruce might not have that much to say about the proverbial human condition, it is both a profoundly silly and entertaining ride.
My Name is Bruce opens Nov. 14 at the Landmark Harbor East, with Bruce Campbell in attendance at both the 7:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. shows that evening.