Our mini-season of SyFy reviews concludes with Bruce Campbell’s directorial debut. It’s as unlike a normal one of their efforts as it’s possible to get, and after the hyper-generic “Ice Quake”, that’s refreshingat least. Whether refreshing = good is a conundrum the next 800-1000 words will unlock for you!
Campbell wrote “Man With The Screaming Brain” some years ago, and set it in LA, but when SyFy got on board, they suggested Bulgaria as it was cheaper to film there. Well, by “suggested”, I mean said ”film it where it’s cheap or we’re out”. So Bulgaria is the location where stereotypical ugly American William Cole (Campbell), the CEO of a drug / research company, has decided to take advantage of some juicy investment opportunities. He and his wife seem to hate each other, and she immediately falls for their taxi driver – who they pick because he’s the only one who can speak English – Yegor (Vladimir Kolev, “Dungeons and Dragons: The Book Of Vile Darkness”). He mocks Cole when they first meet, and as he’s quickly shtupping Mrs Cole in the back of his taxi, there’s clearly something less than respect there. But we don’t really get time to drink this in. There’s a lot of stuff in this movie!
Tatoya (Tamara Gorski) is a woman with a confusing backstory and motivation, a problem she shares with every other character. She kills her boyfriend when he decides to dump her, then steals some stuff from Campbell, then when he confronts her, kills him with a lead pipe, and shoots Yegor, who was coming to help. An impressive amount of work for the first half-hour, I’m sure you’ll agree.
This leads to the last spoke of the movie, the mad scientist and his assistant Pavel. Ted Raimi, friend of Campbell’s since childhood, starts at OTT and just keeps dialing it up as Pavel, and Stacy “what the hell is he doing here?” Keach is Dr. Ivanov, who’s invented a serum that allows part of one person’s brain to be transplanted into another person’s brain, to heal damaged areas and so on. If only he had a couple of recently killed people, one of whom had a head injury, to test his invention on! That he tried to interest Cole in his invention before is what counts for irony in a movie as bonkers as this.
Anyway, the majority of proceedings is incredibly tiring slapstick, as Cole, with Yegor riding shotgun in his brain, with one of them sort of in control of one half of the body, the other the other, trying to track down and stop the woman who killed them both. Campbell gives it his all, but he must have realised this was pretty weak sauce compared to the stuff he used to do with Sam Raimi (and they really try to remind you of those movies with some of the physicality). They seem like a pair of friends who are mildly annoyed with each other, rather than strangers who met ten minutes ago.
His wife, unhappy with her husband and happy to turn off his life support, then finds Tatoya (lord knows how she knew where she lived) and tries to kill her. You think she’d be thanking her? But of course Tatoya kills her too, and this allows Ivanov to put her brain in a robot’s body and all the wackiness that ensues from a crap immobile robot wandering about. There’s little worse than unfunny comedy, because when the jokes fail you’ve got nothing to fall back on.
I’ve perhaps been overly unkind to it. There’s a weirdly prescient reference to “Donald Trump” when discussing the worst excesses of Americans; there’s some real and completely unvarnished Bulgarian locations, very much unlike anything you’ve seen of Europe in most movies; and the casual attitude of Raimi and Campbell to deaths all around them is pretty funny too.
That above paragraph is, as I’m sure you noticed, pretty much the definition of damning with faint praise. Campbell clearly recognises where comedy should go in a movie, but he seems unable to provide it, giving us sections that in another pair of hands might have us creasing up with laughter but here just leave you, full of goodwill for his amazing career, just short of smiling. He’s not much of a director, which might be why he and Sam Raimi divided up the jobs the way they did back in 1980. And if I had to guess, I’d say he let Ted Raimi write his own dialogue, and he’s even less funny than Campbell is. He obviously loves old B-movies the same way I love them, and peppers the movie with references and plot devices from them, but…well, a lot of them sucked, too.
The thing is…there’s no reason for any of this stuff to happen. It feels like Campbell had an idea after watching “The Man With Two Brains”, wrote a bunch of slapstick but then couldn’t really be bothered with the rest of it. There’s a long list of “why is this happening?” questions you’ll ask yourself as things go on, and none of them will be answered.
If you want to feel embarrassed for these folks, listen to the end credits, where Raimi gives us a rap song, in character, about how he’s stealing bodies and doing brain surgery. As much as I love songs written from the perspective of the people in the movie, or performed in character, this is miserable. Then I remembered the other passion project “My Name Is Bruce” that you’d expect to be hilarious but was actually, much like this, all sound and fury signifying nothing, and thought perhaps this is as good as we can expect?
Rating: Thumbs down