Bruce Campbell: The Chin Who Saved the World
He is known by many names such as , Sam Axe, Ash, and Brisco, but to most TV and movie fans we know him as "The Chin". And that chin with the actor behind it, who's actual name is Bruce Campbell has for over 30 years fought demons, shot outlaws, and drank beers all to make the world of TV and movies a better place to be.
Bruce Campbell is one of those rare actors who can easily play lead roles, but may be more suited for the character type. His body of work over the past 30 years is both impressive and highly unusual. Whether fighting off possessed humans (Evil Dead), wandering around the jungle (Congo), or owning a book store that irritates one of the employees (The Ellen DeGeneres Show), Bruce has shown a wide range of roles, yet he seems to play only one type of character, one that’s similar to Bruce himself. He’s a handsome rogue that has enormous screen presence, yet he doesn’t take himself all that seriously. In that vein, he’s somewhat similar to actors like Gary Cole or Patrick Warburton, who have played characters so dry you could light a match on them.
Bruce got his start in films thanks to his good buddy Sam Raimi and launched the “Evil Dead” series. That association has lead to Bruce appearing in almost every Raimi film since, save for “The Quick and the Dead” in which his small part was left on the cutting room floor. He also is well liked by the Coen Brothers who cast Bruce in small roles in some of their films like “Fargo” and “The Hudsucker Proxy”.
Today, Bruce is best known playing the “sidekick” role in USA’s highly rated “Burn Notice” series. Bruce plays former Navy Seal Sam Axe, who’s often sucking down beers and “mohitos” while helping his pal “Mikey” (Jeff Donovan) out with an assignment. The series has the throwback feel of a 70’s detective show, but the action takes center stage.
Burn Notice: The Fall of Sam Axe
With the release of the Burn Notice two-hour film, “The Fall of Sam Axe”, Bruce shows he can once again carry a lead role in a TV series. The film takes place before the events of the Burn Notice series began. In “Fall”, Sam is still in the Navy and has been assigned a task in a South American country to find a rebel leader and, with the help of that nation’s special forces, capture him. Of course, few things are as they seem and sure enough, Sammy has sided with the rebels and is desperately trying to get out of the country.
The first thing I noticed about “Fall” was just how much weight Bruce has lost, a fact mentioned in the first Burn Notice episode that followed the film. His cleaned-up appearance fits well with the situation and while the film itself feels a bit too “TV”, that is, the production budget clearly doesn’t match the cinematic attempt, Bruce handles the lead role so well that the film flies by. There’s even an awkward, but loving nod to his past when Sam throws a chainsaw through a truck’s windshield.
Here are a couple more DVDs to recommend if you enjoy Campbell’s work, I picked the two that I feel best show his range, comic flair, and rogue demeanor.
Evil Dead 2
Yup, while the original has its merits, Evil Dead 2 had the budget and sheer lunacy to become a horror classic.
In this film, Bruce plays the mild mannered Ash who returns to the cabin in the woods where the “evil spirits” killed several of his friends. Naturally his girlfriend come along and before you can say, “Don’t read aloud from the Book of the Dead”, all hell breaks loose.
Highlights include Ash being attacked by his now headless girlfriend, an argument between Ash and his own reflection in the mirror, and his final solution in dealing with his possessed hand is one for the ages.
Evil Dead 2 combines grotesque make-up effects and sharp horror story with an almost Three Stooges style comic glee. Bruce plays just about every emotion known to man from absolute panic to total, maniacal hysteria. It’s a performance that’s would be worthy of an award, if they make awards for such things. It’s certainly an entertaining performance that fits perfectly with the film’s atmosphere that all comes to a conclusion in one of the most inspired cliffhanger endings in horror movie history.
The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.
Yea, “Jack of All Trades” was okay, even entertaining at times, but despite his buddy Raimi producing the series, Bruce’s character never really fit the look, budget or even intent of that series.
“Brisco County” on the other hand was almost too inspired for its own good. Bruce plays the title character, a bounty hunter that’s the son of a famous lawman who gets killed in the line of duty (very briefly played by R. Lee Ermey) and sets off to find his father’s killer(s). Along the way he gets help from fellow bounty hunter Lord Bowler (a very funny Julius Carry) and has, as the title of the series indicates, a lot of adventures.
The series seemed like an updated version of the very popular “Wild, Wild West” show from the 1960’s, updated as in “throw everything AND the kitchen sink” into the overall storyline. Not only does Bruce face down the standard bad guys from the Old West, he must recover mysterious golden orbs and encounter time travelers. The show developed a cult following…for the thirteen or so people who watched…before Fox cancelled the series after one year because of really, really low ratings.
This may be the ultimate Bruce Campbell role as he certainly fits well into the Old West and his good looks combined with an unusually calm demeanor play off the series use of in-jokes, modern references and slam-bang action. I feel that had the series toned down the more “sci fi” elements, it may have become a classic.
If anything, “Brisco County” had one of my favorite scenes of all time (sorry, I cannot recall that particular show’s title). In it, Brisco and several others are trapped in a large bank vault when they hear the tumblers of the lock start to roll, Brisco screams out the combination, but to no avail as they roll past the combination. On the second try, the door unlocks and reveals Comet, Brisco’s horse, as the one who unlocked the door. As everyone else is staring in disbelief, one of them says Comet must be the smartest horse in the world. To which Brisco calmly replies, “It took him two tries so he ain’t that smart.”
Now that is pure Bruce Campbell.
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