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Photograph by Jerome Prebois

A Stitch in Time: Bruce Campbell gets plastic surgery Bulgarian style in horror comedy 'Man With the Screaming Brain.'

Brain Drain

Bruce Campbell proves that two heads are better than one in 'Man With the Screaming Brain'

By Richard von Busack

BRUCE CAMPBELL is a burly Midwesterner with a quacking, overconfident persona similar to vintage Bob Hope. He can always count on an audience when he mistreats himself. This expert physical comedian and character actor is still revered for his Evil Dead trilogy, where he was used as a meat-puppet by gibbering demons.

Maybe the comic highlight of Man With the Screaming Brain, which Campbell directs and stars in, is a more violently slapstick version of the Steve Martin/Lily Tomlin split-brain feud in All of Me. A foreign brain transplant makes Campbell's character do its bidding. As he performs a Frankenstein waddle past a series of doleful Bulgarian war monuments—making a "Why was I not made of stone, like these?" face—Campbell is once again broadcasting on his own particular wavelength.

Campbell's William Cole arrives in Bulgaria, prowling for a corporate tax loss. He's more vulgar than any Bulgar. "Do you speak English?" Cole brays at a cab driver. In subtitles, the cabbie responds: "No, and I wouldn't want to." The awful CEO eventually finds a shrewd, heroic Russian driver named Yegor (Valdmir Kolev). Through complicated circumstances, both Yegor and Cole end up killed by a vengeful Gypsy woman named Tatoya (Tamara Gorski). Fortunately, the shaggy, half-sane Dr. Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov (Stacy Keach, unrecognizable) has perfected an anti-rejection drug that permits new feats of translantation. Yegor's brain ends up in Cole's thick skull, and the two fight it out as they try to survive.

The film is continually diverting and continuingly silly. For better or worse, all the cast members get to act a little (even Campbell gets his teary scene of ministering to an injured robot that has the brain of his wife implanted in it). Expert stooging is provided by Ted Raimi as Pavel, the Bela Lugosian doctor's assistant, who is captivated by 10-year-old hip-hop clichés. The use of locations is excellent; Campbell shows you a lot of Bulgaria.

And if you think that's a bad thing, maybe you ought to be the next victim of Dr. Ivanov. Man With the Screaming Brain has quite a subtext. Without pushing politics too hard, this self-produced slapstick horror/comedy makes a point about capitalism's onslaught on new territory. Like too many American visitors to a far away locale, Cole comes in as a know-it-all. He's blind to the nuances of history and too lazy to learn anything. And he's unfeeling toward the disappointment of the Eastern Europeans in what the free-market economy actually delivered, as opposed to what it promised. In getting "a piece of the mind" of an actual local, Cole learns his lesson. Trying to shove his ideas into other people's heads, he ends up the forced recipient of another point of view. Pretty deep for a movie that has a scene of a guy trying to cool his fevered, garishly-sutured head in the water of a toilet bowl.

Man With the Screaming Brain (Unrated; 90 min.), directed by Bruce Campbell, written by Campbell and David M. Goodman, photographed by David Worth and starring Campbell, Ted Raimi and Stacy Keach, opens Friday at Camera 7 in Campbell.

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From the June 15-21, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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