See It Instead: Elvis Overdose!
This weekends new release, Elvis and Nixon, is precisely 50% Elvis, as the title implies. We thought we could do better. Here are four movies you can watch instead on the cheap, each with the surgeon general’s recommended dosage of hunka hunka burning love.
Elvis and Nixon (2016)
Kevin Spacey plays President Richard Nixon, who is currently loathed by the American people. Michael Shannon plays Elvis Presley, who is currently riding high…on drugs and a nearly psychotic belief in his own mythical proportions. The two spend an unlikely evening together when Elvis crashes The White House, looking to become a federal marshal. Nixon is extremely uneasy with interacting with anyone, but his staff think a visit from The King of Rock and Roll is just what his miserable approval ratings need.
The critics seem divided on this one. Some think the impersonations are well done, others think they are overblown…particularly Shannon’s Elvis. Below are four films where Elvis gets his due.
The Serious Pick: True Romance (1993)
Christian Slater and Patricia Arquette have a problem: Slater has just killed her pimp and accidentally stolen several thousand dollars worth of cocaine that he was holding for a big time crime boss named Blue Lou. The even bigger problem is that Slater killed the pimp while under the influence of love and Elvis Presley. Slater is such a fan of The King that Elvis (played with absurd gusto by Val Kilmer) appears to him physically, giving him advice on how to live his life. Since we know that the big kahuna crapped out on a toilet, overdosed on drugs and peanut butter nanna sandwiches, he is a poor choice of life coach. Things get worse when Blue Lou’s top guy, played by Christopher Walken, decides to tail the pair of love birds in order to get the drugs back.
Penned by Quentin Tarantino, this film is packed with surreal performances. Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken and Gary Oldman all turn in memorable roles, full of endlessly repeatable snappy dialogue. The icing on the cake is The King, who shows up at inopportune times to dig our protagonists deeper and deeper into a hole. When the ghost of Elvis tells you to kill your call-girl girlfriend’s pimp, maybe its time to shut off the Blue Hawaii marathon before you end up doing the Jailhouse Rock…
The Lighthearted Pick: Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)
In an alternate reality, Elvis is alive, though not well, living out the end of his days in a crappy retirement home surrounded by geriatric patients who suffer from dementia. Turns out The King just wanted a vacation from his busy life in Vegas and hired one of his own impersonators to do his gigs while he got some R&R. Unfortunately, the guy he hired had a drug problem and died famously on the loo. His estate was more than happy to get his money, and had no interest in a “pretender” showing up to stop the gravy train. With nowhere to turn, Elvis has to take the job of being his own impersonator for lousy wages, eventually ending up shady retirement home in Texas, plagued by a bad hip from his years on the road shimmying for folks just interested in the complimentary casino buffet. He’s all set to check out in ignominy until an elderly black man (Ossie Davis) who claims to actually be JFK in hiding, clues him into the fact that an ancient Egyptian evil is living under their rest home.
This film is beautiful lunacy played with a straight face. Director Don Coscarelli, famous for his horror franchise Phantasm, brings a genuine evil vibe to this farce, and the film deals just as much with the issues of aging and celebrity worship as it does with Elvis and JFK battling a soul-sucking Mummy. Bruce Campbell is spot on as Elvis…so much so that he recorded a complete audio commentary for the film in character as The King, in which he mercilessly critiques “that Campbell fella” for getting his mannerisms all wrong. The movie is great, and the audio track is hilarious, making this movie a two-for-one deal.
The Unconventional Pick: Mystery Train (1989)
In Memphis, three stories unfold in the grimy Arcade Hotel, where every dirty room proudly hangs a velvet portrait of The King. A young couple from Japan on a pilgrimage to Elvis Mecca, a newly single woman trying to escape her past, and a heartbroken foreigner out for a night on the town with is friends all have their fates intertwined by dark comedy and violent tragedy on a fateful night in the land of the Delta Blues.
Director Jim Jarmusch is both an odd duck and masterful choreographer of minutia and dialogue driven character studies. Departing from his famous black and white imagery, the muted colors in this piece help to bring out the drab glory of a town built to worship a fallen idol. His characters are off-beat but intensely human, and he gets great, understated performances from each. Well, except for Steve Buscemi. Buscemi is a free bird who needs to fly, and every one of his eccentric roles carry a distinct flavor to them. There’s very little action from the actual King of Rock and Roll (though he does eventually show up) but his spirit is omnipresent throughout each of the three vignettes.
Honorable Mention: 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001)
Five crooks dressed like Elvis impersonators attend a Vegas convention with the intent of robbing the place in the perfect disguises. Things do not go as planned.
Kurt Russell as Elvis! Kevin Costner as Elvis! Christian Slater as Elvis. David Arquette as Elvis? Bokeem Woodbine as Elvis?!? Just run with it! A classic heist film set-up with a decidedly odd twist, the film has almost as many double-crosses as it has muttonchops and pompadours. It’s not a great film, but it is a fun film, and a great ride watching people with no business playing Elvis all try to play a different aspect of him.
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