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'Graceland': Jailhouse Crock

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, February 23, 2001


    '3000 Miles to Graceland' David Arquette, Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Christian Slater and Bokeem Woodbine in "3000 Miles to Graceland."
(Alan Markfield/Warner Bros.)
They said it was high class but "3000 Miles to Graceland" ain't nothing but a hound dog. It's two hours to disgraceland.

If you go to see the Kevin Costner-Kurt Russell thriller expecting what its TV blitz suggests, a kind of goofy caper lark with a zany bunch of Elvis impersonators knocking off a casino while grooming their sideburns and muttering, "Thangkew, thangkew vera much," you will be stunned.

What you get is the V trifecta: vile, vicious and violent. Oh, and incoherent and stupid. A mess. A mean-spirited completely worthless film that can never give back the two hours it seizes from you. Other than that, I liked it a lot.

Russell, the bad-good hero (as opposed to Costner, the bad-bad hero), plays a slouching sideburn farm named Michael Zane who shows up in a red '69 Caddy outside Vegas, where he pulls into a sleazy motel and is immediately set upon by trailer-trash single mom Cybil, played by Courteney Cox. Why do I think the usual Elvis impersonator in the usual Vegas no-tell motel won't likely run into Courteney Cox? You could hit a lot of no-tell mo's before you ran into Courteney.

But soon enough another whole carload of Elvises pulls up, with Jack Murphy (Costner) as the head dude, because he has even better sideburns than Michael's. Off they head, spouting bad imitation Tarantino dialogue, toward the casino where an all-Elvis all-the-time convention is scheduled. Surprise: When the boys throw open their guitar cases, what comes out but nothing less than every automatic weapon known to man, including the Gatling gun and the magazine-fed pea shooter.

Even without checking the press notes, I made a wild guess that the director, Demian Lichtenstein, had more than a few music videos to his credit. Am I smart or what? The heist that follows tracks by no moral principle, but only an aesthetic one: If it is glass, shoot it; on the other hand, if it is human, shoot it. Its comic high point is a midget aspiring Elvis brought down in a metalstorm of .223s. The havoc – dozens of cops and security guards die, not that the movie really notices – is intercut rhythmically with the kitschy stylings of the real Elvis fakes shaking their booties to the King's holy writ.

For the next several geologic epochs, the movie follows the betrayal-o-rama as various members of the robbery crew shoot one another, leaving, finally, only Jack and Michael alive, except that somehow Cox's Cybil and her annoying little boy have sneaked off with the duffel bag full of cash. Yet more cat-and-mouse ensues, with first this character, then that, then these two, then those two, then the damned kid, taking charge of the swag. All this leads to another one of those blazing, incoherent shootouts, only this time including automatic weapons from Mars and Jupiter, where again the cops conveniently line up like tenpins to get themselves killed by the tens and dozens.

I hereby formally acknowledge that thrillers must by their very nature occasionally violate the rules of common sense or are so delicately plotted that only a coincidence can hold them together. Sure. Anybody who reads or writes or watches them knows that. But does the following seem even remotely likely? The cops arrest a man in a stolen car. He has two nickel-plated .45s in a double shoulder holster under his jacket, and a record a thousand yards long. His attitude suggests a Viking pillager on steroids on a rape-quest through the English countryside in A.D. 822. So do his hair, his leather jeans, his tattoos and the minor fact that he has a woman in the trunk of that stolen car. The cops never notice the woman, and when the owner of the car shows up, he is awarded possession of the car and drives off, woman still aboard. Then the cops happily parole the gunman.

It's that kind of movie, alas. It'll probably siphon off a few IQ points, and at my age I have few enough left to spare.

"3000 Miles to Graceland" (119 minutes) is rated R for extreme violence, including a sequence that treats the beloved Jon Lovitz like the Saint Sebastian of the dumpy-fat-guy set.


Copyright 2001 The Washington Post Company

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