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'Heartbreak Hotel' (PG-13)

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 01, 1988

Finally, a movie for the I-saw-Elvis-in-my-pancake people. "Heartbreak Hotel" gives us Saint Elvis, Uncle Elvis, Elvis as E.T., the Last Temptation of Elvis, in which the rock god, enticed by an ordinary life -- wife, kids, lawn mowers -- reconsiders his Vegas act, white suits and facial hair.

Chris Columbus wrote and directed this stupefyingly dumb fantasy with David Keith as the King, circa '72. That must have been before Elvis became walking lard on speed, for Keith -- a California Raisin-esque Elvis -- is fit, fatherly and definitely drug free. The model Elvis -- approved by the Presley estate and the national fan club -- reunites the Wolfe family.

Johnny Wolfe (Charlie Schlatter), a frustrated high school rocker, is worried about his mother Marie (Tuesday Weld), an Elvis devotee who has been depressed since her husband deserted the family. Johnny decides to cheer her up by kidnaping the star, who is a little mad at first, but decides to take a vacation from celebrity. Before you can say "Viva Las Vegas," he has refurbished the family's rundown Heartbreak Hotel, revived Marie's spirits, helped Johnny get his girl and persaded his little sister (Angela Goethals) to turn off her night light.

But before he leaves their small Ohio town -- heading for the heavens in near Spielbergian splendor -- the fame-weary legend relocates his rock 'n' roll roots. Johnny accuses him of turning his back on rock 'n' roll, says Alice Cooper is more popular. Elvis starts wearing flannel shirts, tucking the kids in and mowing the lawn. He replaces Johnny as head of the household pro tem, and the trouble begins.

When Elvis offers to teach Johnny and his band some moves, the teen strikes back in anger. "What's wrong with my moves?" he demands. "You ain't got fire in your pants," Elvis twangs. "You want us to stuff our pants?" snarls Johnny. "I didn't stuff my pants. God did," says the Pelvis, turning on his heel.

High repartee is the byword of Chris "Goonies" Columbus' screenplay. And then there are those lines that stand alone, like Marie's "Elvis is so clean and pure, like Ivory Soap suds covered with sweet cream." Both things can be found in a tub -- which the real Elvis had come to resemble -- but otherwise the metaphor is an unsavory one.

With such fruity writing, what do overacting and miscasting (Jay Leno would have been perfect) matter? Playing Elvis is like playing a Kennedy, nearly impossible. And Keith, as we know, had mighty big pants to fill.

Face it. The King has left the building, gone to that Caesars Palace in the sky. Columbus, say goodbye.

Heartbreak Hotel, at area theaters, is rated PG-13.

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