Long live The King

3000 Miles to Graceland

“So, Mr. Arquette, how in the world did a dork like you manage to bag that hot <i>Friends </i>chick who’s also in this movie?”

“So, Mr. Arquette, how in the world did a dork like you manage to bag that hot Friends chick who’s also in this movie?”

Rated 3.0

There’s a certain joy in seeing Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell in full Elvis regalia, shooting up a Vegas casino in the bizarre action film 3000 Miles to Graceland, a movie that manages enough quirky originality to overcome its sore spots.

A bit overlong and containing a few too many conventional subplots, Graceland still manages some surreal fun thanks to the performances of Costner and Russell and the original eye of first-time feature director Demian Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein has crafted some sort of strange Elvis rave, with trippy visuals and a pulsating soundtrack by George S. Clinton. Some may view his work as indulgent overkill; others will see it as blessedly over-the-top.

Whether or not the director’s style appeals to you, there’s no denying the powerful, nasty performance Costner puts forth as Murphy, a stoic bad-ass sporting perennial shades and some monster chops. He’s not so much an Elvis Impersonator as an Elvis Terminator, a career criminal with a mysterious family history that has left him feeling somewhat vengeful. This is a terrific departure for Costner. It will shut up naysayers who’ve been bitching about his recent inability to take chances with role choices, a group of malcontents that includes yours truly.

The casino heist is a blast, as Costner leads a band of Elvis-clad cronies, including Russell (cast here as the career criminal with a good side), Christian Slater as the group paranoiac and David Arquette as the zany minion (as if there’s another role he could play). Bloodshed intercuts with an Elvis convention, with the robbery culminating in a roof-top shootout that includes singer Paul Anka running around with a machine gun. I have ample respect for a film that features Paul Anka toting firearms.

While the film’s remaining 90-plus minutes perhaps don’t match the zip of the heist, it does provide Costner with enough set pieces to create a truly memorable villain (I especially liked his standoff with a traitorous Slater). Russell has some nice chemistry with Courteney Cox Arquette, who, except for an unconvincing breakdown scene, is good enough in this film as the romantic interest to make us forget Scream 2 and Scream 3.

Unfortunately, Cox Arquette’s single mother character comes saddled with a cliché, that being the plucky, intuitive young son who becomes Russell’s sidekick. Had this whole plot device been removed from the script, Graceland would’ve been a better, more streamlined film. Instead, the movie stalls out in moments when Russell and the kid exchange banter on the road, padding the film’s running time. The moment where the kid starts wailing and grabs hold of Russell as he attempts to leave is the film’s worst, except for the aforementioned unconvincing Cox Arquette-breakdown scene.

While the film struggles in spots, it’s never bad enough to derail the proceedings. Costner and Russell don’t share much screen time together; the two separate after the casino heist, and Costner tries to hunt down Russell for a large chunk of the movie. They occupy their portions of the movie well, but the film really pops during their shared screen moments, including a climactic scene that boasts Ice-T as an assassin with a taste for jelly sandwiches.

Stay for the credits, which include a hilarious Elvis lip synch by Russell with a montage of the film you’ve just seen as his backdrop. It’s fun to see Russell doing Elvis again, as he did so masterfully in John Carpenter’s 1979 Elvis biopic. Some may argue that the final video, featuring dearly departed characters dancing around happily with their guns, is better than the actual movie.

Ultimately, 3000 Miles to Graceland is much like the aging Elvis himself: overweight, a bit bloated, a little sloppy and undeniably cool, despite its excesses.