Directed by: Demian Lichtenstein
Starring: Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Courteney Cox, Christian Slater
Probably the best comment I've heard about 3000 Miles to Graceland is that it's "good for what it is," which is a little bit like the possibly apocryphal story of Abe Lincoln offering to endorse a product by saying, "For people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they'll like." The problem is, I'm not sure if too many people really are going to like this sort of thing. The movie's trailer makes it look like a big-budget caper film with more comedy than anything else, especially given the quirky premise of Elvis impersonators knocking over a casino. And while it is a big-budget caper film, its comedy quotient is significantly less than represented -- in fact, it's virtually nonexistent. What you get instead is an extremely violent and graphic action picture with an intensely cold-blooded edge. So cold-blooded is the film's approach to its characters and its actors that it constantly surprises the viewer by how quickly and cavalierly name actors are offed without a backwards glance. Director/co-writer Demian Lichtenstein is best known for his work as a director of music videos. This is patently obvious where 3000 Miles to Graceland is concerned and, ultimately, it results in an uneven work. The tricked-up MTV look works quite well in some of the film's action sequences, giving an edgy, frenetic -- almost hallucinatory -- quality to the proceedings. But this is very much a double-edged sword, because the approach also makes certain action sequences virtually incomprehensible. Much shooting and the requisite number of explosions and the like are in evidence, but just who is doing what to whom gets lost in the cinematic trickery. The worst of this approach, however, lies in the fact that Lichtenstein's tarted-up style seems ultimately grafted onto the film and not something inherent to it, since he apparently is at a loss when it comes to applying the method to the straight scenes. Once the action stops, Lichtenstein slumps into fairly pedestrian filmmaking. Lichtenstein should take lessons from Guy Ritchie's Snatch on how to integrate this style into the entire film. As it is, he ends up with two different movies -- or one movie that breaks for action scenes with the feeling of stopping for a Busby Berkeley production number. This is not to say that 3000 Miles to Graceland is without its merits. Some of the direction is both stylish and apt (the final scenes are action movie par excellence), and the script is a lot more clever than one expects in this sort of movie -- laced with elements of genuine depth in terms of both plot construction and characterization. The shifting meaning of the film's title and the subtle manner in which much of the Elvis connections to the Russell and Costner characters are developed are very well done. And then there are the performances. Kurt Russell manages to make his anti-hero into something at least offering the illusion of a three-dimensional character, quite unlike the usual by-the-numbers approach that mars most action films (where one-liners all too often pass for characterization). The real surprise, though, is Kevin Costner, who has bravely taken on the thoroughly unlikable role of a card-carrying psychopathic killer. Despite a couple of dubious late-in-the-day attempts to humanize and even mythologize the character, Costner's role is like a cold blast of pure evil running through the entire film. It's an intense and intensely creepy characterization. What a pleasant surprise to see this actor take the risk such a role involved. 3000 Miles to Graceland is a mixed-bag of a film to be sure, but not one without its rewards -- so long as the viewer has the stomach for its extreme violence.