Worth A Look: 19.3%
Just Average: 11.11%
Pretty Crappy: 1.75%
10 reviews, 111 user ratings
by Marc Kandel
What LXG should have been, may God curse and rot Don Murphy, Stephen Norrington, James Dale Robinson, and oh what the hell, that prancing twat Shane West.If you donít live too far away from any major cities, and you can find it nestled in the dusty corners of the larger multiplexes looking to fill space not used for Sewage Appreciation Week Ďs eight-screen sensurround digital presentation of Under the Tuscan Sun and yet another unnecessary Texas Chainsaw Remake, then you just might see a thing of true wonderment: An exciting, moving, satisfying film that defies just about every genre label the movers and shakers of Hollywood would so love to punch into its chest with a staple-gun. After crudely stripping it of all relevance and substance of course. Thank goodness director Don Coscarelli knew what a gem he had and kept it pure.
"Ask What Bubba Can Do For Your Movie"
The Pelvis and former President Kennedy have seen much better days. Okay, the years have been somewhat kind- Elvis didnít blow out his drug-weakened heart pinching a loaf on the turd-bin and the Zapruder film is now more of an ďAssassins do the Zaniest ThingsĒ Fox TV special, as JFK is very much alive after some cosmetic shenanigans by the government involving a can of shoe polish and a sandbag (JFK has been dyed black to protect his identity and had half his head filled with sand). Yeah, they could be better, but theyíre still alive, if not well.
The film finds our main protagonist, Elvis Aaron Presley (Bruce Campbell), living out his twilight years in a home for the elderly down in Texas. The old folks and their home represented in this picture are disturbing. These are tired, tired people. You can practically smell the mixture of piss and linoleum emanating from the dim, hard corridors. Iíve been in assisted living communities like these visiting infirm relatives, and already one gets the sense that the director truly knows his stuff. There is no sugar coating here. Days are spent in immobile rest, night is spent on the death-watch. The help is patronizing and frayed from routine, the visiting children of the residents disgusted and ungrateful. A hearse is the normal sight on the front lawn. It is an unremarkable, sad place teeming with weary souls that the outside world has all but forgotten. It is also a hunting ground for a creature whose age dwarfs all the residents put together. They are now not so much prey, but stock for the mummyís larder as it picks and chooses and waits. The death begins, but no one notices- how could they when death and apathy is routine?
Elvis also waits. The days and nights parade on and on, blurring time between eating, pissing, shitting and having the nurse attend to what might be a cancerous growth on his flaccid member (yes, Virginia, thatís his dick). This is not the rock god of yesteryear. This is a tired geezer in a fever dream. No will left, not much of a hip left, his only entertainment being the ďwhat ifĒ playing through his head involving the life that could have been with his wife and child.
Life takes a turn for the better, ironically, when the Pharaoh comes a-calling on the King via his familiar, a scarab beetle that attacks and is repelled by some fantastic comedic choreography utilizing a bedpan and a space heater. The fight awakens something in Elvis prompting him to rise up from the bed at last and confront his wretchedness, and a great evil (not necessarily in that order). The mystery of the strange events reignites his zest for life, his hard won dignity, and his rock ní roll spirit. He finds a kindred soul in the form of John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis), who has also been aware that something is indeed very wrong at their domicile and is already hot on the case. The two of them get their shit together and team up (once Elvis has assured Jack that he is not part of Lyndon Johnsonís assassin cabal), and then its time for some good olí fashioned ass-whoopiní mano-a-mumo. The rest I leave for the viewer.
Bruce Campbell is Elvis. I can offer no higher praise than that. He reaches inside the caricature our generation knows and loves and finds the man. And itís an old man. Yeah, the Elvisisms are intact, but Bruce goes farther by finding a soul inside of the media friendly package not overusing a facial tick or a catchphrase, but truly making it a small part of the greater man. And okay, there is a smidgeon of Ash (Evil Dead Trilogy to the Great Unwashed) too, but címon, we all wanted to see it anyway- and Iíd like to think its because there always was a little Elvis in Ash- itís all style, backed with some formidable talent. It is an honest, many times poignant performance with verve, and its assured omission around nomination time is another reason why the Oscars only makes its presence known in my life if the bar Iím in has it on one of their televisions with the sound turned down.
Ossie Davis is not JFK. Or is he? Man, heís close enough. I think Ossie Davis could walk through everything from a John Waters film to an Ashton Kutchner vehicle and still maintain his venerable dignity. That reminds me. I must gently euthanize Terence Stamp. His shame must end. But back to the point: Ossie Davis has the ability to make you believe in him as JFK. He doesnít throw on the alien Massachusetts accent now parodied from everything from Howard Stern to the Simpsons, nor does he chase every piece of septuagenarian tail in the rest home whilst swilling Chivas. Itís a serious, understated performance. It is also funny to the point of uncontrolled urination. Again, the caricatures are thrown out, and the humanity comes out to play and that makes it so much more interesting than a few affected mannerisms lesser actors would have trundled out. Ossie Davis finds JFK in the little things he does and the world he creates around him that really make the difference. Jackís room is half Oval Office half Warren Commission. His suits are always pressed and even his casual wear is meticulously cared for, always putting his best foot forward. He walks tall and proud (or rides, when in his wheelchair). In fact, of everyone in the old folks home, Ossieís Jack is the most alive, the most clear-headed, and the most able. Heís the guy that knows something needs to be done, and gets everyone off their asses to do it. Dammit heís the President.
This movie is what League of Extraordinary Gentlemen the Movie (the much reviled LXG) should have been: A dream team of legends (historical in Bubbaís case rather than fictional) well past their heydays raising themselves out of their faded lives and failures and reclaiming their greatness one last time. Throw in some moral ambiguity and weakness to make the characters real and interesting rather than flawless cartoonish fops good only for T-shirts and McDonalds toys, and you get magic. What Stephen Norrington and Don Murphyís multimillion-dollar major motion picture brutalizes and wastes, Don Coscarelliís shoestring-budgeted indie masterfully utilizes and the love and care given to the latter story couldnít be more apparent, whilst the former is a cinematic war crime. Fuckers.
The only real flaw in this movie is painfully viewing how far the budget was stretched to bring such a fantastic effort to fruition. Certain shots are grainy and badly lit detracting from the flow of the visuals and obscuring detail, not to mention just being plain distracting. If Don needed some better quality film and a few more lights to shoot those night scenes he should have told me. I would have cheerfully bludgeoned one of those affected NYU film students with their tripods Bob Crane style and carted off the goods to the location immediately. Assault, you say? Nonsense! Thereís nothing like a little blunt force trauma to the head to inspire a future artistic opus. Or spare us from one. Seriously though, as much fun as I was having, seeing the quality of the film dulled by such seemingly simple things as these for lack of money truly angered and disgusted me. I hunted around but could not find any information supporting the idea that Corscarelli might have done this on purpose- if so apologies, though again, I sincerely doubt it. Crappy picture like that belongs on an outtake reel, not on the finished product. Who do we blame for that?
Why could Bubba Ho Tep not find more support? Why did I see no previews? Why were there no posters in the very theatre I was viewing it in while they practically wallpapered the place with that mallet to the genitals known as Scary Movie 3? Why is it barely in three theatres in an entertainment Mecca like Manhattan? Why did I have to hunt for this superior work on a movie marquee amid at least 7 separate showings of Duplex, from all accounts a cyclopean tower of steaming bile-coated offal? The best reason I can think of is that no big-time hack writer/director/producer wants this movie out there succeeding because it will force him to actually work for once in his life and create greatness rather than shill his candy-coated anal leavings to a lobotomized public that should know better. One wonders how Cabin Fever managed to get by this obstacle.
See this movie for no other reason than to let Hollywood know that their trash is our treasure. Okay, so see it for more reasons than just that. See it to treat yourself to one of the most rewarding, inspired adventure stories to come from the depths of cinema in quite some time (a summer can be a loooong time to wait for good film).
Bubba Ho Tep is magnificent imaginative concept blended with superb execution and love. Its funny, its tragic, its exciting, it is heartbreaking, it is inspiring. Itís also a better bet than most of the unwatchable drek ladled out into theatres on a weekly basis.Havenít heard of this one, you say? Donít see it sparkling off the movie marquee in dazzling laser strobes or illuminated against a gleaming billboard? Seek people. Seek and find. I guarantee it will be well worth it.
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originally posted: 12/23/03 18:19:42
|OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2003 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2003 Seattle Film Festival. For more in the 2003 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.