40×40: My Name Is Bruce (2007)

Directed by Bruce Campbell.

“You don’t know fear kid, you never worked with Sam Raimi.”

Why Did I Get This?

As with Alien Apocalypse, My Name Is Bruce was one of four Campbell films packaged together in a box set I picked up in a charity shop for less than the price of a second-hand copy of the film I actually wanted. The other film included, was one of the very first Late Reviews and one which I already owned a copy of, but sometimes needs must.

Unlike Alien Apocalypse, I had already seen My Name Is Bruce – and on the big screen too! I saw it as part of an all-night horror movie marathon at the wonderful Hyde Park Picture House back in 2007, and remember enjoying it a lot.

How much of that was due to being surrounded by 200 fellow movie geeks and wired on knock-off Red Bull and Haribo at 4am, I guess I’ll find out once I hit play…

Late Review

As always, the Late Review will include details from throughout the film which could be considered spoilers. If you want to avoid them, scroll down to the next heading.

My Name Is Bruce opens with nerdy teenager Jeff (Taylor Sharpe), removing an ancient amulet from a Chinese graveyard on the outskirts of Gold Lick, Oregon, and unwittingly unleashing Guan Di – the Chinese god of the dead (and bean curd). The ancient being murders Jeff’s friends and begins picking off townsfolk, so Jeff kidnaps his B-Movie idol Bruce Campbell (Bruce Campbell), to save the town from the vengeful god.

Alright, I’ll admit it – from the opening tones of the cheesy country ballad about the Chinese god of bean curd performed to camera in earnest tones by a couple of cast members, I’m completely on board with this movie.

As a bit of a Bruce Campbell fan, I remember being quite excited to see this at the Night Of The Dead in Halloween 2007, and if I remember rightly, it was the last screening of the night (meaning it started at around 4am). I’m not really one for all-nighters, but managed to make it through the rest of the screenings and shorts, and recall having a great time with this one.

The plot is essentially The Three Amigos, as a teenager assumes that genre favourite Bruce Campbell can really vanquish the supernatural monster he accidentally unleashed. Campbell has a great time playing up his nerd-bait persona, acting like an arsehole to crew and co-stars on the set of the direct-to-cable Cave Alien 2 before insulting autograph hunters then getting drunk and pushing his car back to the shithole trailer he calls home.

Interestingly (for me, anyway), there are echoes of this Bruce Campbell in the series Ash vs Evil Dead which ran for three seasons from 2015. Like this Bruce, Ash is living an unfulfilled life, drunk, horny and single and living in a trailer with a pet – a dog called Sam ‘n Rob in this movie (after old friends Raimi and Tapert), and an iguana named Eli in the series (after… no idea, sorry).

It’s fun to think that the series creators looked back at My Name Is Bruce and thought ‘yep, that’s how Ash should be living now’, and you’ve got to wonder whether Campbell himself secretly thinks it’s how his life might’ve turned out if it wasn’t for his geek king status and never-ending tour of conventions and celebrations.

Before Bruce gets to Gold Lick though, we get a little more of his social life, as he meets his agent Mills Toddner in a sleazy dive bar to moan about how shitty his straight to DVD schlock career is going and making a cheap dig at Matthew Perry (his co-star, along with Liz Hurley, in the 2002 bomb Serving Sara), and again, you wonder just how much of his frustrations Campbell is showing here. I know, I know, it’s a fictional representation of him, but in cinema veritas, no?

Anyway, Mills Toddner is our first sighting of Campbell’s old friend and colleague Ted Raimi – looking not dissimilar to Charlie Cox as Matt Murdock in the Marvel Daredevil series… or is that just me?

The laughs are easy and gentle between the two as they bicker, and you can tell these guys have known each other a long time, even in character. Knowing the pair of them, it’s a fair bet Raimi’s appearing for free but on the proviso he gets to show off a bit, and he does that in a few ways – firstly, by speaking what sounds to me like pretty great French during a phone call at the table.

Secondly, by ‘getting one over’ on his old buddy by making him a cuckold – yep, in this universe, Bruce’s agent and the closest thing he has to a friend is also banging his estranged wife.

And thirdly, Raimi gets to show off by playing multiple roles. Sadly, we’ve saved the worst for last, as the other two roles he gets are… well.

There’s Ted the sign painter – a comic relief character with a big moustache who is constantly moaning to himself in an “It’s-a-me, Mario!”, accent while reducing the population number on the Gold Lick town sign after each murder. In fairness, it’s a fun little repeated gag and he gets a nice pay-off by crawling back to amend the number on the sign after having his throat slashed by Guan Di.

But then there’s Wing…

Yep, that’s Ted Raimi again, as the Chinese elder of Gold Lick, Oregon.

If we’re being generous (and I try to be here at Late Reviewer), this feels like a misguided casting call that’s been done out of financial necessity. Presumably, it was cheaper to knock together a few facial prosthetics and a wig then let Raimi go full Mickey Rooney than it would’ve been to hire an actor of the right ethnicity.

Even though his appearances in the film are brief and attempting to be comical (to be clear, nothing in this movie is played truly straight), each time he returned I felt the excitement of ‘hey, it’s Ted Raimi!’ was replaced very quickly by a frown and a cringe. Things weren’t that different 15 years ago, so they must’ve known it wasn’t culturally appropriate?

Anyway, back to the good stuff.

The demon design is pretty cool, and each appearance is coupled with great strobe light effects which make the budget work in its favour. James Peck, who played Guan Di, gets to do some of that weapon-twirling stuff that made Darth Maul so cool for five minutes in 1999, and he seems like a pretty imposing presence whenever he shares the screen with others.

The knowing attitude of the film really works in its favour – if you’re a fan of Bruce Campbell, you’ll be well aware of how charming he can be. Whether it comes across as genuine or not, there’s a glossy, smart-arsedness to his character that he’s perfected over the last few decades. In some roles, he’s completely unaware of this, giddy and enthusiastic as a puppy, but in others – as here – he’s completely self-aware and reading his lines with tongue firmly in cheek (although there is puppy-like enthusiasm in his performance here and there too).

With that in mind, he gets to deliver fun lines like these, safe in the knowledge they’ll raise a smile whatever you think of the film…

“I’ll be right back, don’t do anything quaint ’til I return!”

“Kid, I made a movie in Bulgaria, I’m ready for anything.”

“It’s called deodorant, look it up on your internets.”

“I’m gonna give you some advice, okay? Keep it under a million and a half, get one name actor, and if you go straight to DVD, you might break even. Now fuck off!”

That last one is his response to the kid who outlines the plot to him and asks for his help in defeating Guan Di, but also (obviously), described Campbell’s plan for My Name Is Bruce. The budget was indeed $1.5m, and you do get the feeling it wasn’t made with the intention to be shown at too many cinemas – maybe just the late night cult circuit – but to make its money back with its home release.

What’s interesting (again, to me at least), is that the budget for My Name Is Bruce was the same as that for Alien Apocalypse, but the difference in quality is absolutely huge. Admittedly, there are a few years between the two, but the latter looks significantly better than the former – though I suppose it wasn’t made for television.

Weirdly, this film was also budgeted at about half of Man With The Screaming Brain but, again, looks far better.

This one was filmed in the USA, which presumably helps. In fact, it appears the majority of Gold Lick was actually put together on Campbell’s own land – and the town looks great. It’s shot nicely too, in such a way as to look grand without the viewer realising just how little you’re seeing.

In a scene where Campbell’s trying to escape the town after realising he’s facing a genuine threat, he runs around the town square leaping on and off of moving vehicles while the handheld camera follows him, and it’s clear that the Bruce Campbell who used to somersault across soundstages fighting his own possessed body is still capable of throwing himself into his work. Late in the game, he falls from a moving flatbed truck, then gets up and runs off, which feels very much the Bruce Campbell way.

Showing some respect to other filmmakers as well as his own back catalogue, Campbell adds nods to Ghostbusters, William Shatner’s performances, and if I’m not mistaken, there’s a massive ‘homage’ to Psycho which includes a musical cue so close to Bernard Herrmann’s score there must have been some sort of a deal done.

Throw in a very dark gag following a death, some more culturally inappropriate references, then a silly fake-out ending which includes a plug for one of Campbell’s books and the most predictable jump-scare, and another song over the credits (with an extra little jump-scare), and you’re over and done in less than 90 minutes.

Verdict

It’s nice to know that as soon as the opening song (which is brought back with new verses throughout the film), those memories flood back – almost like a comfort blanket, there’s something about watching My Name Is Bruce that makes me happy.

Does that mean it’s a perfect film? Of course not – if one were feeling unkind, one might refer to it as a smug, $1.5m vanity project which rips off The Three Amigos and other, better films.

But if you’re going into this as a fan of Bruce Campbell and everything he embodies – low-budget horror, sarcasm, tongue-in-cheek humour and a level of self-awareness most big budget actors seem to have lost – then you’re going to have a great time with it.

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