Sunday, April 17, 2011

Movie – Bubba Ho-Tep (2002)

I could try to sum this movie up in one sentence by saying that it’s “Elvis and JFK vs. an ancient Egyptian mummy in an old folks’ home”, but that would convey only a small part of what the movie is about.  It does convey that it’s a comedy, but it doesn’t let you know that it’s also a bittersweet look at how old folks are marginalized both by their infirmities and by the people around them.  It also doesn’t let you know that it’s a reasonably respectful portrayal of Elvis, rather than a roast or parody of him.  Finally, it doesn’t let you know that it is a sometimes touching look of what it means to be a hero.

So how exactly do Elvis and JFK, or an ancient Egyptian mummy for that matter, end up in an old folk’s home?  Well, “JFK” is played by Ossie Davis.  He’s delusional, believing that when the people who tried to assassinate him failed, they died his skin black, filled his head with sand, and hid him away in an old folk’s home.  He’s obviously not the real John F. Kennedy.

“Elvis” may or may not be the real Elvis.  He’s officially an Elvis Presley impersonator who fell off a stage, broke his hip, and has not been able to walk right since.  He claims that he’s the real Elvis; that he switched places with an impersonator because he was sick of the life he was living.  He just wanted to be a normal guy again.  He had a written contract with the impersonator that he could take back his real identity, but he “lost it in a barbeque accident.”  (Cut to a funny scene of the accident.)  I choose to believe that he’s the real Elvis, but it’s left up to your interpretation.

Life isn’t good for Elvis.  He’s mostly bedridden, treated by nurses who won’t believe him, and suffering from impotency.  The first sign he has that something in the home is wrong is when this enormous bug, an Egyptian scarab that he thinks is a cockroach, attacks him.  There’s a really funny scene where he’s trying to kill the thing and when he finally succeeds, he shouts in triumph, “Even a big, bitch cockroach like you should know…never, but never f*ck with the King.”

He starts noticing that people in the home are dying faster than usual.  He teams up with “JFK” and they figure out that an ancient Egyptian mummy is walking the halls of the home at night stealing the souls of the patients.  No one will believe them, of course, any more than they will believe that they are Elvis and JFK.  They decide that they have to take matters into their own hands and get rid of the mummy on their own.

What follows is my favorite scene in the movie where they are given the “hero shot.”  That’s where when the hero has finally decided to make a stand, they show him getting ready, and then they usually have him walking in slow motion towards the camera, getting bigger and bigger, until you can see the determination on his face.  Well, the hero shot here consists of JFK making sure his automatic wheelchair is ready and Elvis getting dressed in the 70s white jumpsuit complete with cape.  They come around a corner in a hallway, Elvis pushing his walker in front of him, dressed all in white, and JFK making a perfect swing around him in his wheelchair until both come down the hallway toward the camera, in slow motion of course.

Elvis is played by Bruce Campbell, an actor who has a huge cult following for movies like the Evil Dead trilogy, and assorted other films he’s done.  I’m here to say that you can forget about all of those; this is the best performance of his career.  He’s not doing a bad Elvis impression; He is Elvis.

Campbell also does two separate commentary tracks.  On one of them he’s himself.  On the other he’s “The King, coming to you from an undisclosed location.”  You hear him snacking on all kinds of different things while talking.  You hear him cheer when the movie Elvis does something good, but he’s not thrilled about how much time they spent on all the infirmities that the movie Elvis had.

As you can tell, this is not your normal movie.  In fact, all three of the movies in this category are “not normal.”  Of the three this is the one I liked the best, probably because it was so much better than I had expected.  I had read the concept and had thought it might provide a few laughs and be forgotten, but I have ended up watching it multiple times since then.  It is a very enjoyable movie.  Unless you must have your movies be very straightforward with nothing “weird” in them, I highly recommend this movie.

Chip’s Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

           DVD                      Blu-ray

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