In Bad Faith

Devotion to the King won't bring salvation to 'Graceland.'

America's entranced by things that suck, so 3000 Miles to Graceland should do pretty well at the box office. But is that an indication of some kind of insidious metastatic aesthetic retardation, or our culturally ingrained, finely wrought camp sensibility? Susan Sontag (who probably doesn't like things that suck and is therefore a communist) in 1964 usefully defined camp as something that's "good because it's bad"; Glasgow Philips, writing 31 years later in Might magazine, updated that definition to the much more accessible "something that's cool because it sucks."

America's ungenerous cultural memory of all things Elvis Presley falls pretty neatly into Philips' categorization, or more specifically the last part of it: We remember painkillers, sweat, and corpulence barely contained by rhinestoned jumpsuits while conveniently forgetting everything that made Elvis sexy and dangerous and above all else cool in the first place. Those swiveling hips, that voice like some gland that decided to speak up and assert itself, that leer; why remember those things in distant young Elvis when we've got strapping heterosexual Ricky Martin so willing to step bodily into the King-sized hole in our collective psyche?

With young Elvis out of the way, his edginess whitewashed and interred on a postage stamp and his carnal appeal supplanted by the loco Latino, the only parts of the King remaining in memory are the sad, ugly things that marked his later years: comically extended sideburns, a belly, a bad pompadour, a couple of glittering fake jewels on some sunglasses and a cape. Finally, for all time, Elvis sucks.


3000 Miles to Graceland is a movie predicated on that sort of thinking, the equation of "that sucks" with "that's cool" while ignoring the mitigating factors that made Sontag's and Philips' definitions of camp workable. And no, though it aims for camp, though it desperately wants to be smart enough to be funny in an arch, knowing sort of way, it's just too dispiritingly bad to be anything but, well, dispiritingly bad.

After a title sequence featuring battling CGI scorpions that looks like it could have been lifted from an XFL pregame show, we check in on a 1959 Cadillac pulling into a battered motel in rural Nevada. Kurt Russell plays the driver, Mike, an aging ex-con with an Elvis fixation. Upon his release from a five-year stint in prison, Mike naturally turns his thoughts to arming himself to the teeth and robbing one of the most well-guarded places in the Western Hemisphere, a Las Vegas casino.

A sagging Kevin Costner plays Murph, Mike's partner in both crime and Elvis obsession. He believes himself to be the illegitimate son of Elvis, and Murph is actually a lot like the King would have been if he had been humorless, cruel, and had a penchant for killing anything that moved within his field of vision. Costner, who as we all know has a strange, irresistible attraction to awful movies, and who's played basically nothing but crinkly-eyed romantic heroes since Sizzle Beach, U.S.A., actually gets the chance to really stretch out in this awful movie and play a crinkly-eyed antihero. It's actually not too difficult, and sort of fun, to imagine what it would be like if Costner had played this character in other movies; like if in Field of Dreams when Shoeless Joe Jackson finally showed up Costner just blew him away with an automatic shotgun. That's the sort of thought that runs through one's head when one watches this movie.

Anyway, after Mike shags a sleazy truck-stop waitress (Courteney Cox-Arquette, reminding us why she doesn't have a movie career), he hooks up with Murph and his gang and they proceed to rob the Riviera Casino during a convention of Elvis impersonators. A wasted opportunity for high camp fun, the robbery instead plays out like an overadrenalized John Woo imitation, with truly absurd amounts of flying lead, overused slow motion effects and an obtrusive techno soundtrack interspersed with seemingly random clips of Elvis songs. Overstylized, underplanned and stunningly poorly shot, the scene's problems are representative of the entire movie's.

After that scene, there are the standard double-crossing maneuvers and then a joyless chase across the desert. Actually, for about 20 minutes the movie settles into a sort of engaging road-based B-movie, but anyone after that sort of thing would be better off renting one of Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures re-releases, or basically any movie with the word "Bikers," "Outlaws" or especially "Choppers" in the title.

Rookie director Demian Lichtenstein has plenty of experience with fast-paced visual arrhythmia, having amassed a huge body of work in television commercials and music videos. However, he has no grasp of his subject matter, and the concepts of camp and kitsch are clearly utterly beyond his comprehension. You really can't do an Elvis-based movie in the post-1990s without at least acknowledging that what you're doing sucks a little bit; unfortunately for Lichtenstein and the audience of this film, what he doesn't realize is that his movie isn't fun, or good, or cool. It's just bad.

3000 Miles to Graceland is playing at Century Gateway (792-9000), Century Park (620-0750), Century Park El Con (202-3343), DeAnza Drive-In (745-2240) and Foothills (740-6740).

3000 Miles to Graceland is not showing in any theaters in the area.

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