It was an ingenious enough plan: rob the Riviera Casino's count room during an Elvis impersonator convention. But Thomas Murphy decided to keep all the money for himself and shot all his partners, including recently-freed ex-con Michael Zane. With $3.2 million at stake, the Marshals Service closing in, and single mom Cybil Waingrow and her son Jesse constantly confounding things, Michael must track down Murphy. Written by
`3000 Miles to Graceland' isn't quite as dopey as the cover art featuring Kurt Russell and Kevin Kostner clad in Elvis regalia would suggest. Although it breaks little new ground in its already overworked genre, the film does emerge as an efficient crime drama thanks to a gallery of interesting characters, some impressive performances and Demian Lichtenstein's flashy directorial style.
After a shaky first half hour or so, in which the film seems to be struggling to establish its direction and tone, the movie miraculously hits its stride and, thereafter, never really lets up. The story centers around a band of ex-cons, united by their almost obsessive love for the King of rock'n'roll, who decide to knock over a Las Vegas casino dressed as Elvis impersonators. Predictably, the heist serves merely as the pretext for one of them, the obviously psychotic Murphy (Kostner), to cold-bloodedly eliminate his accomplices. The fly in his ointment turns out to be Michael Zane (Russell), the most principled one of the group, who survives the holocaust and spends his time, along with a pretty single mother and her precocious child, trying to keep out of Murphy's way.
In terms of plotting, the film follows a pretty traditional route for this kind of film. However, the characters here seem a bit more fleshed out than they often do in some of those other films, particularly Zane, who seems caught between his criminal inclinations and his innate goodness as a human being. Cybil, the single mother played by Courteney Cox, likewise seems conflicted between genuine love and emotion and the excitement of easy wealth and a life lived on the edge. But it is Kostner as Murphy who sets the real tone for the film. His portrayal of a steely-eyed psychotic killer literally sets the teeth on edge, as he callously mows down scores of policemen and innocent bystanders who happen to get in his way. He makes for a truly soul-cringing villain. Russell, who played the actual legend back in his own younger, more halcyon days, makes a fascinating subtle counterpoint to Murphy's unbridled ruthlessness.
The film is not, however, a total success. For one thing, the violence often seems excessively brutal, graphic and mean spirited for a movie that seems to want to be a lark of sorts (after all, a movie featuring robbers dressed as Elvis impersonators can't be bidding to be taken too seriously). Moreover, the plotting, which far too often relies on unlikely coincidences to keep it rolling, also borders frequently on the incoherent. Finally, the morally ambiguous ending doesn't really sit well with those of us who find a couple of thieves, no matter how charming they may appear to be, unlikely candidates for heroism in the context of a `happy' ending.
All in all, however, `3000 Miles to Graceland' will probably appeal to those who like their crime dramas offbeat, quirky and filled with interesting characters.
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