The last guy who called Judge Daniel MacDonald "Bruce" lived to regret it.
With a little practice…anyone can be as good as Bruce Lee!
"My grandfather had a dying wish."
As you may know, They Call Me Bruce follows the adventures of a Korean chef working for the mob, whose specialty is spaghetti made with Chinese noodles. His connected employers call him "Bruce" after Bruce Lee, despite that not being his name, so he goes with it and takes on the new moniker. Bruce dreams of being a kung fu master despite being pretty useless at fighting, so he often reflects on the teaching passed on by his late grandfather ("Go for the groin!") or uses his quick "wit" to talk his ways out of sticky situations in which he frequently finds himself. Looking to pull a double cross, the Boss of Bosses dupes Bruce into delivering a load of cocaine across the country by telling him the cargo is his special Chinese flour; hijinks ensue involving the FBI, a redneck bar, Las Vegas' smallest casino, and a group of prison inmates that Bruce manages to simultaneously release and get high.
By no standard could They Call Me Bruce be considered a good movie. Filled to the brim with ham-fisted acting, poorly choreographed fight scenes, and a plot so ludicrous that it seems unlikely a script existed before the cameras rolled, it's a clear example of low-budget, low-expectation filmmaking.
Yet, there's a certain undeniable charm that speaks to the movie's cult classic status, thanks to star and co-writer Johnny Yune's clear desire to entertain his audience at the expense of his dignity. They Call Me Bruce is improbably good-natured, despite broad stereotypes and jokes that would come off as just plain mean on paper. (At one point, Bruce is joined in a hot tub by a young woman, and he remarks, "You're a ten!" Then she disrobes and he sees her small breasts: "You're a ten where you should be a thirty-six." All class.) The film is loosely patterned after Airplane-style comedies, where sight gags and puns take precedence over logic or anything remotely resembling realism; most of the jokes fall flat, crafted with little of the insight that the Zucker brothers bring to their work, but the occasional ones that work tend to work pretty well. The first time Bruce scares off an assailant by suggesting that because he's Asian he must know martial arts made me laugh, as did the more subtle running gag that almost everyone in the movie—from an FBI agent to a jive-speaking gang—knows kung fu except for Bruce. There are far more misses than hits, though.
The back of the box of this 25th Anniversary Edition (strangely coming twenty-seven years after its original release) proudly announces it features a "high quality transfer from a recently found pristine 35mm print." I believe every part of that save for the word "pristine." This edition of They Call Me Bruce looks only marginally better than an over-watched VHS tape, with questionable picture stability, a healthy helping of dirt and scratches, and all manner of digital sins including horizontal and vertical edge enhancement, mosquito noise, and compression artifacts. This is a wholly disappointing transfer, so don't be fooled by the proclamations on the packaging. Audio fares somewhat better—at least it's clear most of the time—but it's of the low-bitrate two-channel variety usually reserved for audio commentaries, so don't get too excited. No special features are included.
The fanbase for The Call Me Bruce is already established, and it's unlikely this release will draw much of a new audience. Said fanbase will be pleased to know, however, this is the uncut version as opposed to the 2003 DVD which apparently lost some of the naughty bits that seemed out of place in a PG movie. Indeed, while it's tonally pretty innocent, They Call Me Bruce would have earned itself at least a PG-13 were it released today.
They Call Me Bruce: 25th Anniversary Edition is worth checking out for nostalgia, or to give yourself another somewhat obscure B-movie from which to quote to your friends, so long as your sights aren't set too high. Otherwise, it barely reaches a qualified not guilty.
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