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3,000 Miles to Graceland
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by Jack Sommersby

"A Seismic Blast of Cinematic Pleasure"
4 stars

Kurt Russell and Kevin Coster are simply marvelous in this colorful, energetic action extravaganza.

I find myself in the position of defending the entertaining 3000 Miles to Graceland due to its having been universally panned for serving up virtually all of the same cinematic excesses many of its ilk have been over the last two decades without receiving anything near the amount of critical venom. I'll be the first to aver that the writing has its share of faults -- it weaves very little in the way of plausible happenstance into the mix and has a screwy sense of linear time -- but, for the most part, it's above-average in structure and deft in its etching of its two interesting lead characters: criminals Michael Zane (Kurt Russell) and Thomas Murphy (Kevin Costner), who -- along with four other shady sorts (played by Christain Slater, David Arquette, Bokeem Woodbine, Howie Long) -- rob a Las Vegas hotel casino during International Elvis Week while dressed head to toe in Elvis garb. The co-writer/director, Demian Lichtenstein, throws in pretty much everything into the mix to garner your utmost attention, trotting out numerous Elvis impersonators, scorpions, double-crosses, vintage Cadillac convertibles, a taxadermist/money launderer, spectacularly staged shootouts, crude profanity, steamy sex, a streetwise young kid who steals the wallets of the men her mother beds as she's bedding them, and enough old-fashioned glass Coke bottles as if they'd never gone out of style.

The whole film is chock-full of memorabilia of a presumably better time, suggesting a more solace era, one where senseless violence and amoral attitudes were the exception rather than the prevailing sociological trend of today. There's even a takeoff on the classic Western High Noon where a grizzled white-knight sheriff in an old cruiser with a single bubble on top faces down a black-clad villain on a deserted country highway and is viciously killed; it's the man's aura of innate righteousness that's reveled in, not the killing -- the camera stays back while the final bullet is administered. Many will complain that the film's explicit violence is what's amoral, but I think Lichtenstein succeeds in using that violence to underscore the moral ramifications of killing. 3000 Miles to Graceland isn't in the same league as Sam Peckinpah's The Wild Bunch or Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven, yet it's fearless and brave in tying together the elements of greed and evil, and how in a way they've always gone hand in hand, whether it's in the form of a bank robbery or the "cooking of books" by corporations to defraud their uninformed shareholders. (The story opening in the sparsely populated town of Rosewood and moving on to the razzle-dazzle of Las Vegas isn't lost on the viewer. Or, hell, maybe it is.)

I'm not suggesting that what's on display here is "deep" or even particularly profound. However, the film's themes manage to resonate, and it's not just the ones that touch upon greed, but the disillusionment of today's society and the disintegration of suitable role models to look up to and put our trust in. Both Michael and Murphy have had fatherless upbringings, and their twenty-something crew briefly find themselves under the guidance of two father figures: Michael, the semi-moral one they need; and Murphy, the amoral one nobody needs. Lichtenstein wisely doesn't overaccentuate his themes -- he glides right on over them rather than pounding them home -- so when he relies on familiar characters and plot points to further them, the familiarities don't creak and groan as much as they should because there are viable underpinnings (however limited) supporting them. I wish, though, that he'd bothered to think his material through better, because, as interesting as it is, it feels a bit rushed, as if he'd been forced to churn out a first and final screenplay draft within a week and didn't have the necessary time to tweak the possibilities in it, to install more consistency in the plotting so you weren't quite so ahead of the narrative and downright cringing at various parts (like the ones involving the awful, dead-on-arrival rapport between two federal marshal characters, who couldn't be more perfunctory and lifeless).

Still, 3000 Miles to Graceland has ten times the entertainment value than two abysmal crime films from last year, Heist and The Score, both of which featured pedigreed casts but enough anemic acting, ho-hum plot turns, and lethargic pacing so as to make a trashy Andy Warhol production seem David Lean-esque by comparison. Where those films stupidly dragged matters out to serve as mere trumped-up contextual padding to reach their grand heist sequences, 3000 Miles to Graceland serves the grand heist up quickly, then uses it to expound upon the characters as they're forced to deal with the ensuing ramifications. It doesn't just serve as a story catalyst to get the characters on the road, but as a moral weight for Michael and Murphy to shoulder; their plan winds up going considerably awry, where violence unexpectedly plays itself out, with Murphy (who's revealed to have been a medic in Vietnam) much more accepting of it than Michael (who's just got through serving a five-and-a-half-year prison sentence -- for what, we don't know). The audience isn't expected to cheer the violence or the vivid characters administering it; we're simply asked to take our own reading on it, and question if maybe Murphy's now-sociopathic nature isn't something of a tragedy in light of his troubled childhood, and ditto for Michael and his criminal past.

Both characters are selfish and guarded, so it's a pleasure in watching Michael emotionally progress into a more receptive, caring human being, and an interesting one in watching Murphy slide even further into a moral abyss yet semi-redeeming himself with a gracious act at the end so you're aware of the considerable potential lost to his own elicit desires. The way Michael's been written, and the way the never-better Russell plays him, he's too smart for his own good, and it's in his willingness to introspect and admit his weaknesses that eventually make him an irresistible character. The love that develops between him and a sexy single mom (played by Courteney Cox, in her best screen work to date) comes off as completely believable, because the writing throws their relationship arc a few curves, and both actors not only match up well together but actually listen to one another -- you can believe there's something genuine going on between them by their reactions and the words being held back. (Oh, and stick around for the closing credits, because unless you've seen Kurt Russell lip-sync to an Elvis tune before -- something he so marvelously did as The King himself in the excellent 1979 John Carpenter-directed tv biopic, Elvis -- you simply haven't lived.)

To give Kevin Costner his due, he comes through with his most varied and forceful performance since the classic baseball comedy Bull Durham some fourteen years ago (in a role, ironically, he took over for Kurt Russell, who turned down the role of the highly articulate catcher Crash Davis). Costner's usual limitations -- his dead-tone surfer's voice, his inability to use his body expressively -- are still on evident display, but he's a lot looser and focused than usual. Almost everything he does here is unexpected; he's learned to trust his instincts, to take chances and quit worrying what the general public might think of each and every one of his on-screen moves. If Costner isn't exactly given the opportunity to exercise the dramatic acting chops he displayed in his superb turn as the laconic Vietnam vet in 1994's The War, he at least gets to rip loose with his comedic flair: in just a single short episode where he masquerades as a drunken high-school football fan, Costner achieves more humorous zeal than he did in his game-but-forced interpretation as the ace golfer in the 1996 sports comedy Tin Cup. He also gets to deliver the films's best line:

"I realize that traveling with you dumb-fucks is the weakest part of the plan, but since we don't trust each other we're going to travel north together as a group, so try to think of us as the Osmonds, except we don't fucking get along."

Sadly, Demian Lichtenstein's voluptuous direction has largely been underpraised by critics. Coming from an extensive background in music videos, he trots out a series of rapidly edited set pieces, and then proceeds to pour on just about every visual trick in the book (slo-mo, fast-forwards, jump cuts, wipes, dissolves, split-screens) to make it sing and scream with visual hyperbole. Usually, this kind of overindulgence grows tiresome and bothersome (see: Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers), but Lichtenstein surprises by dialing it down a few notches when needed; the 'character' scenes outnumber the 'action' ones, and this amazingly assured director (this is only his second feature film) knows how to shoot dialogue exchanges without ever getting too frenzied or too flat in the staging. Top this off with some phenomenal cinematography -- the bold and controlled color schemes are simply wondrous to behold, with an Idaho jail cell's walls painted the most gorgeous shade of green ever to grace an audiences' naked eyes -- and you have an action film as alive when barbed words are being exchanged than extensive gunfire. Be that as it may, the action sequences do manage to carry their weight. The acme of these is surely the casino robbery, which consists of five layers -- that of Murphy committing the actual robbery and starting the shoot-out; Michael overriding the controls of an elevator; a getaway helicopter converging on the hotel roof, a song-and-dance number played out on the hotel's main stage; and a hearing-impaired elderly lady doggedly dumping tokens into a slot machine -- which are so dexterously interwoven and succinctly timed that it plays out as one of the most beautifully violent balletic sequences you've ever laid eyes on. Lichtenstein's capable mitts do drop the ball on a few occasions afterward, though -- like in building up the character of a super-duper mercenary (played by Ice-T), and then failing to show us just what's super-duper about him (his final feat of hanging upside down with two machine guns blazing away with a SWAT team right underneath didn't seem too wise a course of action for the mortal-minded).

3000 Miles to Graceland is just plain fun. What's appalling about the majority's response to it isn't that they hate it but what they haven't wound up hating in relation to it. It's been decried as being too violent, amoral, and with a general disregard for human life. That's funny. For this is exactly what I felt about the jingoistic, context-free Black Hawk Down, which served up several hundred black Somalians being mowed down Playstation 2-style with a Grim Reaper's efficiency by troops of white American soldiers without so much as an iota of dramatic power derived from it all because the filmmakers didn't care about the characters as anything more than gun-toting figures to simply be slaughtered or saluted. At least 3000 Miles to Graceland doesn't go the high-minded route by putting on airs. It isn't anything profound, but it isn't hypocritical in expecting its audience to be turned on by the same violence that's supposedly being denounced. (Just because it's stylized and there's a lot of it doesn't necessarily equate into an endorsement of it.) You don't take pleasure in witnessing the killings put front and center here; and neither does Lichtenstein -- he films the casino sequence with an abstract quality akin to a video game, where the violence is vivid but not really gruesome (an idea that's kick-started during the opening credits as two computer-generated scorpions viciously clash arcade-style to the accompaniment of hard-pounding rock music). We're not being indicted for having watched movie violence all so passively for so, so long, but for exhibiting that same emotional passivity to everyday violence in our everyday world, where newscasts and newspapers report on it, and we, unless a death toll exacts itself into the high hundreds or thousands, casually dismiss it as being extraneous and too unpleasant to contemplate -- unless, of course, it hits on our own personal homefronts. In the end, 3000 Miles to Graceland isn't any kind of classic, but looked upon in retrospect, it's much more telling about our current society's skewered moral sense than its naysayers will likely ever give it credit for.

The DVD sports a beautiful anamorphic transfer, though it's unfortunately devoid of special features.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=4923&reviewer=327
originally posted: 12/28/02 11:07:40
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User Comments

2/13/18 Jack How the heck did this THING get made? It's beyond awful. 1 stars
9/13/17 morris campbell IT SUCKS 1 stars
3/22/16 David H. 3,000 miles to pure rubbish 1 stars
6/21/14 Richard Brandt Has Courtney Cox ever looked hotter? I don't think so! 3 stars
6/04/11 Andrew L I was throughly entertained! gotta love courtneys assets 5 stars
2/26/10 Jeff Wilder Better than its reputation. 4 stars
8/29/08 Shaun Wallner This is the kind of movie you fall asleep too. 1 stars
7/19/08 travis this movie is so underrated, its not great, but its solid entertainment 4 stars
6/19/07 --- Not even worth renting. Turned it off after about 35 minutes....a total mess 1 stars
4/11/06 Seanboy Big, dumb but one of the most surreal things i've witnessed, EricD hit the nail on the head 4 stars
8/29/05 ES good action, good cast, no need to rip on a movie played for fun 4 stars
6/20/05 Indrid Cold It doesn't suffer from bad acting, but just about everything else. 2 stars
6/08/05 Agent Sands Though it can be good, light fun, it's also extremely corny and dumb at times too. 3 stars
2/10/05 Jeff Anderson AN ACTING MILESTONE FOR KEVIN COSTNER, I'M NOT KIDDING! He's one mean & despicable SOB!!!!! 5 stars
2/04/05 tatum Completely formula, but done with style. Costner is fantastic 5 stars
2/02/05 G-Man excellent plot and awesome acting 5 stars
10/17/04 adam shaw (ivan campo) incredible, russell at his sizzling best!! 5 stars
9/13/04 Anarchist_101 This film is 'VERY' underrated... Hey, it's better than a Van Dame flick! 5 stars
6/26/04 Travado de Skol This is the one of the greatest films i have seen, the firt is gladiator and this came afte 5 stars
5/13/04 AngeFaitore Thomas Haden Church was hot, though. 2 stars
5/05/04 J.Peckerfoot Shame bout costner.its not a BAD film,its just not that great either.Watchable tho. 3 stars
1/15/04 Samuel a pretty decent film all in all 3 stars
1/03/04 moviebuff One plus: It's better than Horse Whisperer 1 stars
11/18/03 Jenny gicldod Courtney cox is Mean Petty Dumb 1 stars
6/26/03 cochese It was SUPPOSED to be cheesy. 4 stars
5/04/03 Jenny Tullwartz A Jailhouse Crock that Elvis would consider His Latest Shame if he had to see it. 2 stars
4/23/03 Andrew Carden Who Wrote This Film? A Donkey? Contrived and Mindless. 1 stars
3/22/03 GMan Will someone kill Costner please? Save me from this shit of a movie. 1 stars
3/10/03 Daniel T. Why do YOU write for this site? Looking for logic in the best US trash?Fuck Pulp Fiction! 5 stars
1/19/03 Jim Eh. Violent and shallow. Gets an extra star for tarting up Courteney Cox though. 3 stars
1/09/03 Ange Faitore The movie sucks but Thomas Haden Church looks hotter than ever and his acting is sharp! 2 stars
12/28/02 y2mckay Holy shit! Sommersby and I agree again! GUILTY PLEASURE - though more pleasure than guilt. 4 stars
12/28/02 Jon "Thumb the Toad" Lyrik Wait a second. Sommersby thinks this tripe is better than Memento? BAH! 1 stars
10/26/02 MarktheShark6 "Nobody ever says: 'the King is Down.'" This movie was great, wow... 5 stars
5/17/02 Candace Troy Powers Jenny, Don't Be Cruel, Hard Hearted Woman! Nothin' to get All Shook Up about! 3 stars
5/17/02 Jenny Tullwartz A Jailhouse Crock that Elvis would consider His Latest Shame if he had to see it. 2 stars
3/19/02 Aborted Gently This film was a guilty pleasure for me. It was so hokey and predictable, but fun to watch. 4 stars
10/31/01 jamie ward a must see this is the best movie of the year Kevin Costner 4 life 5 stars
9/28/01 Phoenix Has some elements of a good movie, but ends up being mediocre. 3 stars
8/13/01 SJKelley What movie were you watching? This was a very good film from beginning to end. 5 stars
8/08/01 Monday Morning I hate Kevin Costner's guts. He can't act and is probably a flaming asshole in real life. 1 stars
7/14/01 Rampage Goddam ugly movie... Russell's shoddiest of his career 1 stars
5/24/01 viking I won't waste my money on this crap 1 stars
5/22/01 Archibld Does this thing ever end???? 1 stars
4/25/01 Brian Elvis impersonators + machine guns + trashy women - socially redeeming value = GOOD TIMES! 4 stars
3/25/01 Sid 6.7 A guaranteed, insultingly lobotomized candidate for the 2001 recycling bin of clunkers 1 stars
3/20/01 val WHY ME GOD!?!?! WHY!!!!!!!!!!! 1 stars
3/08/01 Dave I should have gotten a fiber optic video scope and watched the inside of my butt for 2 hrs 1 stars
3/07/01 Joseph F. Thompson I thought it was a great film 5 stars
3/07/01 Mike If I were to die without going to confession I would gostraight to hell with the producers! 1 stars
3/02/01 greg morfoot awesome film 5 stars
3/01/01 Captain Highcrime Not enough Paul Anka if you ask me. 1 stars
3/01/01 Weasel Could've been good if they changed the actors, script, and director 1 stars
2/27/01 The Evil Penguin I Liked It. Pretty much. 4 stars
2/27/01 AK47 I SAID this movie would suck and TAJ yelled at me! 1 stars
2/26/01 Jeff Unique characters, love Lovitz, and Courteney Cox is worth watching alone 5 stars
2/26/01 The Bomb 69 ??????????????????????????????????????? 1 stars
2/24/01 *~Danielle*Ophelia~* (formerly KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi) 42 muscles to frown, 4 to extend your arm and smack all involved upside the head. 1 stars
2/23/01 Greyhound So it ain't Mission Impossible. Still fun, and Courteney Cox is HOT!! Needed more cast time 4 stars
2/23/01 Kairi Taylor A movie with Costner AND Russell in it....RUN MUTHAFUCKER RUN LIKE A BITCH IN HEAT!!!! 1 stars
2/23/01 Kiss My Grits WHY GOD WHY? 1 stars
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  23-Feb-2001 (R)



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