Hail to the king, baby

Pub date December 17, 2008
WriterCheryl Eddy
SectionFilm FeaturesSectionFilm Review

› cheryl@sfbg.com

Evil Dead II was released in 1987. I was a horror-crazed sixth grader, the kind of kid who insisted on screening Psycho at her 12th birthday party. Bruce Campbell became a god to me that year — me, and about a zillion others, who’ve basically worshiped the man throughout his colorful career, which spans TV (including USA Network’s current Burn Notice) and movies (with starring roles in cult hits like 2002’s Bubba Ho-Tep and cameos in Evil Dead series director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man flicks).

Throughout it all, it’s hard not to see a little bit of Evil Dead‘s cocky Ash in all of Campbell’s roles. Campbell knows this. After two decades, he’s used to it.

"Perceptions are all over the map," Campbell told me over the phone from Minneapolis, where he was screening his latest film, My Name Is Bruce. "On one hand, someone’s pissed if you don’t present that smart-alecky persona. And yet whenever I have characters that are similar to the Ash character, I get blamed for not doing anything different. So you’re kind of screwed if you don’t, screwed if you do."

Enter the mega-meta My Name is Bruce, which is about a movie star named Bruce Campbell who’s kidnapped by a superfan to help rid his town of a seriously pissed-off demon. Campbell directed, co-produced, and hosted the filming ("Now I have a Western town I can’t do anything with") on his rural Oregon property. And, of course, he stars, as "a warped, distorted, worst-case-scenario version of myself."

Campbell the character is a guy so jerky he inspires a production assistant to serve him a bottle of pee instead of his demanded-for lemon water (he drinks it anyway — yep, it’s that kind of movie). His sleazy agent (Ted Raimi) holds business meetings at strip clubs; his ex-wife, Cheryl (Ellen Sandweiss, who played Cheryl in 1981’s The Evil Dead — one of many in-jokes scattered throughout), seeks ever-larger portions of his meager earnings. He spends booze-soaked nights in his trailer, taunting his dog.

In other words, dude ain’t no hero. But li’l goth Jeff (Taylor Sharpe) — "Bruce Campbell is the greatest actor of his generation!" — sees Campbell as Gold Lick, Oregon’s only salvation.

"The idea [for the film] was pitched to me by Mark Verheiden, who wrote it, and by my producer partner, Mike Richardson, who owns Dark Horse Comics," Campbell explained. "It was based on a comic that Mark had read years before called The Adventures of Alan Ladd — Alan Ladd was sort of a swashbuckling guy who did some movies in the ’40s and ’50s. [In the comic], people kidnapped him to help them fight pirates, because they knew he was a swashbuckling actor. So we just decided to do an updated, twisted version of that."

If you’re seeking slick terror, you may be let down by My Name Is Bruce; it’s a staunchly B-grade affair, and the villain is no scarier than anything Scooby-Doo ever faced. The main enjoyment is seeing Campbell on the loose, gleefully mocking his image and all that goes with it, including dorky fans who quiz him about career footnotes. Who else would remember 2002’s Serving Sara?

"I mean, [in My Name Is Bruce], I come across as the biggest jerk on the planet. So I’m taking everybody down with me. If you’re gonna do a dumbbell version of Bruce Campbell, then you’re gonna get a dumbbell version of the fans as well," he said. "There’s a sequence where I talk to a group of fans outside a studio, and it’s basically verbatim various conversations I’ve had. Ninety-eight percent of my fans are really normal, rational people. I just included the other two percent in the movie."

Campbell, whose previous directing experience includes 2005’s Man with the Screaming Brain, said he’s comfortable calling the shots on a low-budget shoot.

"I don’t mind being in this world because we’re kind of left alone," he said. "We don’t have to appeal to everybody. We don’t have to have a $48 million opening. It’s a lot less pressure. If this movie sucks, I’ll take the blame because I have no one else to blame. So I guess that’s the beauty and the horror of that scenario."

Campbell reports back to film the third season of spy dramedy Burn Notice in a few months; it’s a full-time gig for most of the year, and he’s just fine with that. He’s fine with playing second banana.

"That’s the best gig in the world. You watch the other guy sweat, and then I show up and go, ‘What did I miss?’" he said.

But back to My Name Is Bruce, the reason Campbell is crisscrossing the country at present. I had to ask: if Campbell could kidnap one of his idols, who would it be, and why?

"Robert Redford," he said without any hesitation. "Robert Redford, I would kidnap. Just to ask him about [his] movies. I would just sit him down. I wouldn’t hurt him. I would just poke him a little bit and ask him questions."

MY NAME IS BRUCE opens Wed/17 in Bay Area theaters.

Bruce Campbell in person with Peaches Christ

Wed/17, 7 and 9:40 p.m., $10.50

Bridge, 3010 Geary, SF.

Bruce Campbell in person

Thurs/18, 7:30 and 10 p.m.

California Theatre, 2113 Kittredge, Berk.