3000 Miles to Graceland
2001, R, 120 min. Directed by Demian Lichtenstein. Starring Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell, Christian Slater, David Arquette, Jon Lovitz, Howie Long, Courteney Cox, Bokeem Woodbine, David Kaye, Kevin Pollak.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 23, 2001
Like great sex, a truly great action film leaves you feeling shaken and stirred. The Wild Bunch, The Killer, Dobermann, Reservoir Dogs, La Femme Nikita, even Armageddon -- all of these resonate long after the lights have come up. Some more than others, sure, but taken together they are action films of a larger caliber, and they operate on a higher, more rarefied plane of tough-guy mythos. Conversely, a lesser, more pedestrian shoot-'em-up often leaves you feeling as though you need a scalding Betadine shower and two fingers of hope, straight, no chaser. The former is like true love, or, at the very least, a decent crimson crush. The latter is like waking up and not remembering his or her name, or wanting to. 3000 Miles to Graceland falls somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, and then slumps, oozing femoral red, into the latter. And while I think I can comfortably say I've never seen anything quite like it, I can also say that I've seen it a dozen times before, in a double-dozen different predecessors. 3KMTG wears its influences even more prominently than other films of its genre, mixing and matching exit wounds and the wry banter of the soon-to-be-deceased with the wearying, edit-heavy non-panache that has become some sort of bizarre cultural signifier lately. For a film with so many concussing rounds, there doesn't seem to be much, if anything, in the proverbial chamber. More and more these days, a film's credit sequence sets the tone for what will follow: 3KMTG opens with a pair of giant, computer-generated scorpions battling it out in the desert as a flaming red sky roils overhead. I suspect this is meant to represent grizzled thugs Murphy and Michael (Costner and Russell), who are soon after introduced as the leaders of a quintet of thieves embarking on the daring daylight robbery of a Vegas casino. They arrive in the midst of the annual Elvis Presley impersonator festival, costumed as the King and mutton-chopped to within an inch of their lives, grab a cool $3.2 million, pop off a lot of rounds, and then, like the King, leave the building. Men like this never last long together -- at least not in Hollywood -- and so it is with this group until, very quickly, only Murphy (who believes he's Elvis' illegitimate son, by the way) and Michael remain standing. On the run from the law and each other, Michael takes up with white-trash griftette Cybil-with-a-C (Cox) and her little griftling Jesse (Kaye), while Murphy takes to the road and fucks and/or kills just about everything in sight. There's something indelibly distressing about casting America's sometime leading man in such a show-stoppingly brutal role, but doubtless that was the intention. The role immediately calls to mind Henry Fonda's equally disturbing turn as the vile, oily Frank in Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West; rarely since then has a beloved Americana star allowed himself such a juicily foul role. Costner sinks his cruel, stained choppers into it and worries it like a tiger shark on a 100-gauge line, spitting callous, acidic venom like a gutshot alien. Russell, who was nominated for a Golden Globe for his title role in 1979's Elvis (and uses that to ironic effect here), plays off Costner's king rat nicely, hissing his lines like he never escaped New York in the first place. However, the whole film is riddled with a sort of vicious, mean-spirited hyper-violence that tanks the works from the get-go, and the dank tone sullies the expansive action. Director Lichtenstein doesn't help matters by raiding both Michael Bay and Oliver Stone's bag of tricks, often simultaneously. Stylistic excesses such as rear-projection, freeze frames, stuttering edits, and rampant CG image manipulation may have sounded like a good idea in pre-pro but the end result is overkill en extremis. There is such a thing as too much. And 3KMTG is much too much.