Bruce Campbell carries Army of Darkness. Not because there’s anything wrong with the movie–well, not so wrong it needs carrying–but because he’s got such a difficult role. His protagonist has to be sympathetic and stupid, a hero and a jerk. The audience can never stop to wonder if they should be rooting for Campbell, even when he’s wrong. The way the film presents him is probably the most significant thing about Army of Darkness.
The film’s short, fast, funny. Even though it’s set in a medieval castle, full of people, director Raimi quickly establishes who’s important, who needs to be remembered for later. It’s a very practical film–Embeth Davidtz goes from being Campbell’s antagonist to his love interest. It serves no narrative purpose (she loses all personality once they’re romantic) other than the efficiency of not having to establish another character.
There’s a lot of effects work. Lots and lots of rear screen projection and photographer Bill Pope never matches any of it. There are a bunch of great concepts, but the obvious artiface makes them more interesting technically than narratively. It’s too bad–especially since the deficiencies just intensify through the run time.
But there’s so much enthusiasm from Raimi, such an odd reverence to the swashbuckler genre–and all the Harryhausen nods–the film is infectious. Campbell isn’t just always good, he’s always amusing; he makes the film entertaining, regardless of technical issues or narrative bumps.
It’s self-aware and smartly stupid. Darkness works out.
Directed by Sam Raimi; written by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Bob Murawski and Sam Raimi; music by Joseph LoDuca; production designer, Anthony Tremblay; produced by Robert G. Tapert; released by Universal Pictures.
Starring Bruce Campbell (Ash), Embeth Davidtz (Sheila), Marcus Gilbert (Lord Arthur), Ian Abercrombie (Wiseman), Richard Grove (Duke Henry the Red), Timothy Patrick Quill (Blacksmith), Michael Earl Reid (Gold Tooth) and Bridget Fonda (Linda).