Twenty years after playing Elvis in John Carpenter’s memorable TV-movie, Kurt Russell still has the look and attitude to pull off a first-class impersonation of The King; he’s easily the best thing about “3000 Miles to Graceland.” But that’s saying very little; “Graceland” is a heist movie with a starry cast but a dumb script and desperately flashy direction, and despite Russell’s presence, the picture is utterly atrocious–a long, tedious trip that leads absolutely nowhere. (As it lurches from one idiotic climax to another, you’re likely to begin repeating, plaintively, those words that every parent will recognize as evidence of boredom and frustration–“Are we there yet?”) One can truthfully observe that its stupidity is exceeded only by its ugliness.
“Graceland” is also a case study in deceptive promotion. The trailers and ads suggest that it’s going to be a high-energy action comedy about five dudes dressed like Elvis who rob a Nevada casino, but it quickly becomes apparent that it’s actually a nasty piece of post-“Pulp Fiction” tripe detailing how the job goes sour and the surviving thieves fall out in its aftermath. Unfortunately, in dealing with the gang’s squabbles the picture doesn’t emulate the sly noirish approach of such similarly-plotted pictures as John Huston’s “The Asphalt Jungle” (1950) or Stanley Kubrick’s “The Killing” (1956), but instead mimics–very badly, one must add–the cynically jokey nihilism of “Reservoir Dogs.” Like a bad Tarantino knockoff that’s way past its expiration date, it’s crammed with pseudo-hip dialogue, preposterous coincidences and bloody confrontations, all of which would be tired and obvious even if they’d rolled straight off Quentin’s own word processor. But they’re made even worse by the ostentatiously awful helming of one Demian Lichtenstein, yet another refugee from the world of music videos, whose penchant for extravagant camera angles, inopportune closeups, frenetic editing and tricked-up montages of cars and clouds suggests that he’s learned all the worst lessons Oliver Stone has to teach but can’t even pull off those empty tricks properly.
It’s hardly surprising that in such dismal circumstances the cast is helpless. Russell, as noted above, comes off best as Michael, the relatively good guy, and he can still manage a few Presley riffs decently enough; but his character is basically a dolt, and the scripters’ ineptitude is shown most brutally in a persistent need to resort to convenient bullet-proof vests to explain how he survives apparent annihilation not once but twice. (It’s about as credible and satisfying a device as the multiple masks in “Mission: Impossible II.”) Costner takes a stab at playing a maniacal killer–Thomas Murphy, a smiling but brutal sleazebag who believes himself Elvis’ illegitimate son–but though he’s more animated than in most of his recent pictures, he’s never remotely convincing or even amusing; the whole performance is just a postured pose. As a hard-luck dame whose attempts to get some of the loot cause crisis after crisis, Courteney Cox is surprisingly pallid, and urchin David Kaye plays way too heavily to the camera as her larcenous young son. The remainder of the cast, in what are little more than extended cameos, tend to overdo things, too (probably as the result of Lichtenstein’s inept prodding). So as the other three thieves we get David Arquette acting like a moron, Christian Slater seething with his best Jack Nicholson smirk and Bokeem Woodbine doing the oh-so-cool gangsta bit. Then there are those two sticks of thespic wood, Howie Long and Ice-T, as crooks who assist Murphy. And Thomas Haden Church and Kevin Pollak as the inevitably wise-cracking federal marshals who pursue the robbers. To add insult to injury, Jon Lovitz pops up for a brief (though not sufficiently so) sequence as a nervous money launderer. He used to be more restrained on “Saturday Night Live.”
Steven Soderbergh is currently prepping a remake of “Ocean’s Eleven.” Viewers hungry for a Vegas heist flick would be well advised to skip this abysmal misfire and wait for that one, even if it lacks the Elvis motif.