I must have a thing for B-list actors who make schlocky films. Either that, or both Jeffrey Combs and Bruce Campbell are just a heck of a lot of fun to watch in movies and TV shows. Either way, I've been a Campbell fan back since my wife introduced me to the Evil Dead series of films. I just finished Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way, his second book and first novel, and I couldn't stop laughing throughout the whole thing. The only reason this isn't a five-star review is because of the horrible Elizabeth Taylor chapter and a couple of odds and ends here and there.
This novel uses real people. I don't know if all of the people are real, but there are a lot of names in it: Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger, Mike Nichols, Colin Powell, etc. Bruce Campbell's acting credits in the novel are real as well. I don't know if Campbell's "friends" are real or not, but I wouldn't be surprised. The basic story is this. Nichols, a famous director, has decided he wants Campbell in his latest movie, convinced that Campbell can finally make the jump from B-movies to A-lists stardom. The movie is called Letís Make Love!, starring Gere and Zellweger as the leads in a romantic comedy. The novel covers the making of the movie, Campbell's research for the part of ever-wise doorman "Foyle," and how it explodes from a romantic comedy to an action flick as Campbell's influence begins to grow. Throw in a seedy Paramount executive who wants to destroy Campbell for some reason, plus various run-ins with Homeland Security because Campbell can't seem to stay away from Colin Powell, and you've got what amounts to a romp.
The book sounds like pure Campbell, with no ghostwriter or assistant in sight. Campbell's direct, unpolished style feels like he's relating the story directly to you over a beer down at the local pub. It's a very quick read, too, with lots of hilariously Photoshopped images illustrating what's happening on each page. The type is also quite large: it's the perfect beach read.
That is, if you don't mind people staring at you when you're laughing loudly at what's going on in the book. Don't get me wrong. If you've seen any of Campbell's movies and found his sense of humor off-putting, then you may not like this novel. If, however, you love that sort of thing, this will be a breath of fresh air. Ultimately, the novel is split into vignettes where Campbell can just go wild with his imagination, eventually getting back to the story. All of the detours are well worth it, and they do tie back to the plot. The chapter where Campbell goes down to the South and impersonates his way into a Southern gentleman's club because "Foyle" is a gentleman from the South (which actually has a twist that will make your eyes bulge out) is classic.
Even better is the chapter where Gere calls Campbell over to his condo to go over some scenes and get a feel for their characters' relationship with each other. There's a scene in Letís Make Love! where Gere's character is mugged and Foyle comes to his rescue. Campbell can't resist adding some B-movie sensibilities to the action in this scene. Gere, who's a peace-loving Buddhist, suddenly gets infected by Campbell's enthusiasm, resulting in a climax that almost made me bust my gut.
Campbell: "Okay, the script says that the guy comes at you from behind. You be you and I'll be the guy. He gets you in a bear hug, so what do you do?"
Campbellís use of real people in this novel is shades of Neil Patrick Harris in the Harold and Kumar movies, except that they didn't agree to it themselves. He doesn't portray them badly, just broadly. He has Nichols get so caught up in Campbell's B-movie suggestions that the picture goes way over budget and turns into a much different film than what was originally planned. He acknowledges them at the end, saying that he hopes they don't mind, but he did portray them as more intelligent than he was in the novel (which is certainly true). It adds that touch of "realism" to the farce of the novel that we can picture real people doing this stuff. It also made the illustrations a lot easier, because he could use actual images.
Gere: "I'd go limp and not resist."
The only place where this fails is in the Elizabeth Taylor chapter. Foyle has been divorced and has a great deal of insight into romance - and the lack of it that causes divorces - but Campbell doesn't want to get divorced again to get insight into how to act. So he goes to Taylor, who is an expert, and who happens to be playing Gere's mom in this picture. He meets her for dinner and talks about all of her husbands and her past romantic life. I read stone-faced through this entire chapter, not laughing once. I don't know if it's Taylor's stature in the movie business or Campbell's choice of writing, but she comes off horribly in this chapter, and my suspension of disbelief just snapped. Thankfully, once this chapter is over, once more finds its footing.
If you don't like outlandish novels, then this book isn't for you. However, Campbell's style is quite engaging; his direct approach to language is refreshing (prominently displayed in the scene where he's told by Nichols to go buy a suitable "mid-life crisis" car at a huge Dallas car dealership), and his ability to make fun of his filmography is wonderfully funny. Give the book a shot. Otherwise he may have to take a chainsaw to your front porch.