Bruce Campbell’s autobiography, If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-Movie Actor, was a critical and commercial success when it was released in 2002. The bulk of that book dealt with Campbell’s career in films and TV, stretching back to his debut in the Evil Dead series as a budding actor and filmmaker, through his work in TV shows like Xena and Hercules. Those sections were full of insights into the reality of life for a moderately successful working actor, dealing with the pressures of the job and managing the expectations of an unusually engaged and quirky fan base. I really enjoyed those sections, and Campbell came across as a likable, humble and intelligent guy with a great wry sense of humour. I was particularly pleased to discover he’s firm friends with Lucy Lawless, who he starred alongside in Xena.
The success of Campbell’s first book obviously inspired a follow-up, which we have here. Make Love is a novel set around Campbell’s unlikely involvement in a big-budget romantic comedy directed by Mike Nichols and starring Richard Gere and Renee Zellwegger (if those choices seem odd, bear in mind the book is set circa 2005). If you’ve seen Campbell’s film, My Name Is Bruce, then this novel will feel familiar: it’s a comedy centered around Campbell, who sends himself up in a very self-deprecating portrayal, although he’s not quite as squalid and sleazy here as he is in that film. Campbell gets himself into a number of hilarious scrapes while researching his film role as a relationship-advice-bestowing doorman, which lead to (among other things) duelling outside a Gentleman’s Club, being arrested for attacking Colin Powell at a Spongebob Squarepants film premiere, and inducting Gere and Zellweger into the dark arts of B-Movie production.
The book is entertaining throughout, and hilarious times, but isn’t really satisfying as a novel. See, a big part of the plot here is that there is a conspiracy against Campbell along the lines that he is infecting Nichols’ A-List film with something known as the ‘B-Movie virus’. Problem is, when making the film Campbell does regularly suggest doing things the way they’re done in B-Movies, which really does cause problems for the production. I’m not sure how much of if it is deliberate–maybe he’s trying to point out just how lacking in self-awareness this version of himself is–but there’s such a pile-up of parody and satire that it can be hard to know what is part of the plot and what is just Campbell making fun of himself. At the centre of the story is (of course) a deranged fan with a grudge, and the ending degenerates into surreal slapstick and hokey action that would be worthy of the even the lowest-budget B-movies.
But most people won’t be reading this book for the plot or narrative cohesion. The best parts of the book are Campbell’s portrayal of himself and other celebrities, and the frequent jokes about lazy, selfish actors and arrogant and aloof executives. Campbell has a great turn of phrase, and there is something naturally comedic about his diction and delivery–discernible also in his movies–brilliantly communicated through his prose and dialogue here. The book is also punctuated with a lot of visual gags, in the form of photoshopped photos of Bruce in various unlikely or compromising situations, or of one of the many unwholesome alter egos he assumes over the course of the book.
As in his autobiography, Campbell is much more candid about the nature of the business than you’ll find in most books or documentaries, although because it is a work of fiction this is of course less educational than If Chins Could Kill. For that reason, this book is probably harder to recommend if you’re not already a fan of Bruce Campbell. This is a book for confirmed fans, or for people who don’t yet know they’re fans. I would guess that narrower appeal is why Campbell hasn’t published any books since this came out, but as time goes by we’re surely getting closer to a true sequel to his autobiography. Groovy.