Friday, June 22, 2012

What's His Name?

Born 1958
I don't think a single actor has built his career almost entirely out of a persona that virtually celebrates his apparent lack of acting talent more than Bruce Campbell.  The closest thing I could think of to this phenomenon of "bad actors who inexplicably keep getting roles" is one of my bĂȘte noires of cinema, a certain stripper named Channing Tatum. 

There are two major differences between Channing and Campbell: 1.) Channing Tatum simply cannot act but no one has had the heart to tell him, and 2.) Bruce Campbell can act but no one has had the heart to tell him. 

Campbell's screen persona can be best summed up as that of Ash, the character he's played in three Evil Dead films (Evil Dead, Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness).  Although they are all cult films  I can only testify to seeing The Evil Dead, a film I wasn't impressed with (and one whose lasting memory involve not Bruce Campbell but a woman apparently being raped by a tree).  Ash is a bit dim (anyone who released evil spirits is not going to be valedictorian), and almost lackadaisical in how he handles things, and somehow I think the perception has seeped into how people see Campbell.

Could it be said that Campbell has been shrewd in using this perception to his own advantage?  Certainly he has a very strong following and has worked steadily, but a quick look at his IMDB resume shows that none of his roles are in Criterion-worthy projects.  Out of all those films, the only one that has come close to being a 'serious role' that I've seen is in the teen-geared Sky High (which I confess to liking and which I thought was pretty good). 

When the most serious role in your career is in a Disney movie, one has to ask how serious your career actually is.

The thing about Bruce Campbell is that one suspects he is not only in on the joke (hey, I can't actually act, but I make a lot of money, so...) but he perpetuates said joke.  I go to the three Spider-Man movies.  The first two just had him in a cameo role, where he provided a light touch that didn't interfere with the general plot but which were welcome.  Spider-Man 3, on the other hand, made one of many, many mistakes by giving a role large enough to earn him screen credit.  His entire scene as the maitre d' not only wasn't funny but only served to make the insufferably long film longer. 

Just from seeing Bruce Campbell on screen, the characters he plays are not ones that command respect but more ridicule.  He specializes in roles where the characters think they are strong and awe-inspiring but whom we laugh at and think of them as ridiculous.  I wonder if that idea has spread to Bruce Campbell the actor as opposed to Brisco County, Jr.

The unfortunate thing, from my view, is that Bruce Campbell could be in a serious role if he ever was given the opportunity.  I think he's been held back by his own persona to where if a real opportunity for a major dramatic turn came his way, it might not be offered to him.

It isn't just a drama, but I think a real comedy.  It isn't hard to imagine he couldn't do a good job in The Hangover or something similar.  However, because he appears to be the first to dismiss himself as an actual 'actor' and more a guy with a good schtick, Bruce Campbell may not reach what I consider to be his full potential. 

It is not for me to say whether he would ever really want to be seen as someone who could play Prospero or Falstaff or Don Quixote or Willie Loman or Big Daddy.  One doesn't think he could play an AIDS-stricken lawyer like Tom Hanks or an evil oil baron as did Daniel Day-Lewis or a closeted professor such as Colin Firth played, but I think Bruce Campbell is more than capable of having been the lead in Philadelphia or There Will Be Blood or A Single Man.

Whether the general public thinks so, or his rabid fans think so, or even he thinks so, is another matter.

Somehow, I imagine for those who know of Bruce Campbell, just imagining him as the leads in any of those films made some howl with laughter.  It might even make Bruce Campbell himself burst out laughing he could make an Oscar-winning or Oscar-nominating turn in a film.

However, I speak only for myself when I say I think that is rather sad.  Still, one never knows...

Bruce Campbell may not even want a "serious" career.  He may not want to be thought of seriously as an actor or as anything.  I have no way of knowing.  It may be he enjoys things the way they are.  Who am I to deny him such pleasures.  I think he has genuine abilities.  Still, if he would rather just cater to those passionate devotees, that is his affair.

With that, I wish a Happy 54th Birthday to Bruce Campbell.

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