Movie review: 'Bruce' knows his audience

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 4, 2008 - 6:36 PM

"Bruce" wades hip-deep into shticky Z-movie swill.

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Bruce Campbell (center) in "My Name is Bruce"

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So you're sitting around thinking to yourself, "Boy, it's been years since I've laughed, really laughed, at a beheading." Fortunately for you, "My Name is Bruce" is here.

Director-star-cowriter Bruce Campbell understands the comic potential of decapitation. In fact, head-lopping is the central motif of his gory new comedy. It's a broad spoof of the zombie-intensive fare that made Campbell the Fangoria subscriber's favorite horror-film ham.

Since his acting debut in "Evil Dead" he has played a string of brash, granite-jawed toughs in countless lesser efforts (and you know we're veering into sketchy territory when we talk about lesser efforts than "Evil Dead") such as "Alien Apocalypse" and "Maniac Cop." Campbell's unique appeal rests on his self-deprecating humor, and in the new film he plays himself as a preening jackass three steps down the ladder from Burt Reynolds.

This Bruce Campbell is an obnoxious Z-movie actor who drives a crummy hatchback, drunk-dials his ex-wife and loathes his fans. When an autograph hound asks why he made the dismal Elizabeth Hurley romcom "Serving Sara," he snarls, "For the MONEY, mouth-breather!"

A rural teen and ardent fan, mistaking Campbell for the heroes he plays onscreen, kidnaps the hack in the hope that he can defeat the demon menacing the kid's hometown. Guan-di, the glowing-eyed Chinese god of war (and bean curd) has been accidentally resurrected. Campbell thinks it's all a joke engineered by his agent, and approaches the crisis as another acting assignment calling for cheesy machismo.

He postures absurdly for the ladies, especially Grace Thorson as the fanboy's delectable mom, who is impervious to Campbell's brand of comic charm. When the actor realizes he's in actual peril he behaves cravenly. Only luck and the long arm of plot manipulation snatch him from destruction and make him a hero in the end.

The jokes, spoofing clichés of the horror genre, operate well below the level of the "Scary Movie" series. (One teen dares another, "C'mon, let's go check out this creepy graveyard.") The insider references about Campbell's career will tickle aficionados, but may leave others cold. As the action heats up, he's asked, "Are you ready for this, Bruce?" He growls, "I made a movie in Bulgaria. I'm ready for anything." And as a director, Campbell applies more tongue-in-cheek pressure to every scene than needed. He never settles for one pratfall when six will do. And does any film need Campbell's pal Ted Raimi (younger brother of director Sam) in three separate cameo roles? At 86 minutes, "My Name is Bruce" is unpardonably long, a series of gags punctuating a perfunctory plot.

Still, give Campbell his due. He possesses great comic timing and knows how his aficionados want to see him. By turns slick, transparent, rash, cowardly, randy, self-doubting, opportunistic, venal and good-hearted, he exerts a perplexing magnetism. "My Name is Bruce" is spasmodically funny, but Campbell's counterpoint of cowardice and cockiness remains irresistible.

Colin Covert • 612-673-7186

  • MY NAME IS BRUCE

    ★★ 1/2 out of four stars

    Rating: R for language and some violence.

    Theater: Lagoon.

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