Someone asked Campbell whether he expected an Oscar nomination, something he joked off. As I stepped out, I happened to find myself right next to the actor for a good 10 seconds, and I thought about telling him how Thursday morning, the same time that I first heard about the movie, National Public Radio's review mentioned that he did deserve an Oscar nod for his portrayal of Elvis Presley as an old man. I'm actually regretting I didn't mention that in passing, but who knows -- maybe someone will encourage him to go for it, because it's a better performance than some of the butt-kissing, self-important, Oscar-begging performances we've been seeing from so-called "artists." And dang, but it would be great to see the words "Bubba" mentioned even once at the Academy Awards.
But, the movie. Check out the website if you need to (and give them a slashdotting they won't forget). The story sounds stupid, but it's actually incredibly clever.
The story revolves around Elvis. No, the real Elvis. Seems that he didn't die -- back in the 1970's, he traded places with an Elvis impersonator, and that was the guy who died on a toilet of a drug overdose. The real Elvis went on as an impersonator of himself, carefree until a hip injury landed him a hospital, in a coma, and now into old age.
So the real Elvis is now an old man in a retirement home with a cancerous growth on his penis at the age of 80, still wearing those shades (prescription glasses now). Laughed at by nurses, treated like a child, and played expertly by Bruce Campbell.
Yes, Mr. Campbell pulls of an incredible performance. He could have played the role of Elvis trying to save a retirement home like many of his other characters -- a hammed-up, cocky action hero. Or taken the Austin Powers route and just made fun of it with a wink and a nudge.
No, Mr. Campbell plays it straight. This Elvis is old, sometimes suffers from dementia, moves slowly and painfully, and is regretting throwing away his fame, fortune, and family. He's going to die all alone, and all of his accomplishments are going to be for squat. He was a fake, and he has no one to blame but himself for his problems.
But he's not going to let some Egyptian mummy suck his soul out of his ass, like the other members of the retirement home he lives in might. Nor that of his best friend, John F. Kennedy (played by Ossie Davis with class and energy) who was dyed black by the CIA after they replaced bits of his missing brain with a bag of sand.
It sounds like a funny movie, and it is. There are some one-liners that could only be delivered by Bruce Campbell himself. But the biggest jokes come in directions you don't see coming at all, and unlike most of your Hollywood movies, you don't see them telegraphed a mile off, because the filmmakers in this case don't assume the audience is stupid. Yes, there are some Elvis comments as jokes (such as the trademark "Thank you very much"), but you don't feel like they were put out there with gigantic neon signs to remind you "Hey, it's Elvis!". If the audience catches them (and most of the time, they did), great -- if not, the movie is just as funny and spooky.
At the same time, there is an element of a true horror movie. Mummies aren't anything to be afraid of, according to the old stereotype of them moving in slow, shambling steps: anyone even close to young ought would have to be incredibly slow to even fear getting caught.
But how about a geriatric with a broken hip, confined to a wheelchair or inflected by dementia? Bubba Ho-Tep uses its situation -- the retirement home, full of slow-moving people who aren't listened to or believed by the figures of authority, treated like they were less than children. Some of them can't even defend themselves or comprehend the danger they are in until it's too late, and when they die, no one is surprised -- after all, they were old, right? When you have a man who's claiming to be Elvis who saw a mummy sucking the soul out of someone's ass: well, he's got a credibility issue to start with.
An old man in a walker trying to escape a slow-moving mummy, it's not only credible, but makes for some of the most inventive action and horror scenes I've seen in some time. Nearly all the effects are done simply, just makeup and lighting, but used to wonderful effect. Not bad for a movie that, according to Campbell, was shot in only six weeks. The editing is probably the best special effect used in the movie, for moments such as Elvis meeting his impersonator self, or the encounters with the dreaded Bubba Ho-Tep. Don Coscarelli, the film's director, uses the cameras without flash, just correct camera angles and cuts like an expert painter uses a brush.
Bruce Campbell performance as Elvis is nothing short of incredible. The makeup is so wonderfully applied, most of the time you don't see Mr. Campbell, you see the King, now old and defeated by age (though it's hard sometimes to cover up that trademark square jaw). Elvis hasn't had an erection in years thanks to the pus on his pecker, he's got cancer, and nobody cares -- but as you see him start to fill up with life and that gleam come back in his eye as he fights for his soul, you can't root but cheer for this underdog.
And this film may be an underdog too, with nothing but fan word of mouth working for it, but it certainly deserves its fair chance on the big screen.
If there's one problem with the movie, there is a little bit of a slowdown about three-quarters of the way through, and an important plot device is gone over nearly three times -- but the pacing is otherwise nearly perfect. Especially when dealing with life inside a retirement home, where time itself can sometimes seem to be slow and almost forgetful of where it's going.
Bubba Ho-Tep is one of the funniest and most enjoyable movies I've seen this year. I wouldn't use the words "Triumph" (as, according to Mr. Campbell, that's a sure sign a movie should be ran from), but I would say it was worth the $8 I paid for the ticket. It's playing in limited theaters, and you can find the details at the film's website. In a summer full of too many sequels, big-budget special effects and explosions that offer mere flash in the pans, Bubba Ho-Tep is as satisfying as a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Do yourself, and independent films a favor and go see it.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
And thanks to Dark Paladin for this review.