At the Movies: `Graceland'

Thursday, February 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Hollywood's decking out its thieves in style these days.

A year ago, the industry played ``Reindeer Games,'' a thriller about casino thieves dressed as Santa Claus. Last month, it was ``Sugar & Spice,'' a comedy about cheerleaders who knock over a bank dressed as giant blond dolls.

Now comes ''3000 Miles to Graceland,'' a caper about more casino thieves, this batch done up as Elvis Presley impersonators.

It's too bad the filmmakers didn't put as much effort into dressing up their stories as they did in outfitting their characters.

As bad as ``Reindeer Games'' and ``Sugar & Spice'' were, ''3000 Miles to Graceland'' is really, really bad. Really.

It's deafening, it's cretinous, it's a visual molestation. We're talking the ``Battlefield Earth'' of Elvis impersonation movies, here.

With its silly, overblown violence, this is one of the ultimate guy flicks, for Neanderthal guys. The movie is all absurd machismo, with a good dose of misogyny directed at the few female characters.

``Graceland'' is another one-step-up, three-steps-back career move by Kevin Costner, who stars as Murphy, the vicious leader of the Elvis thieves. This movie more than negates any advancement toward meaningful roles that Costner displayed in the thoughtful nuclear-arms drama ``Thirteen Days.''

Along for the ride is Kurt Russell as Michael, Murphy's prison chum, who wants one big score so he can retire to his boat. They enlist three thugs (Christian Slater, David Arquette and Bokeem Woodbine, in useless roles that could have been played by mannequins), don Presley jumpsuits and steal $3.2 million in a blaze of gunfire at a casino during International Elvis Week.

But Murphy double-crosses his accomplices (he wears a black Elvis jumpsuit to Michael's white one — ooh, symbolism). What follows is a drawn-out chase, with Murphy and Michael trying to one-up each other for the loot.

Costner did the sociopath on a road trip rather nicely and believably in Clint Eastwood's ``A Perfect World.'' His take on amorality in ``Graceland,'' however, is just embarrassing for its mindless excess.

Russell played Elvis in a 1979 TV movie and made his film debut as a boy who kicks the King in a 1963 Presley movie. He should have left his Elvis connections at that and stayed away from this woeful tale.

Ditto for Courteney Cox as the trashy Cybil, who falls for Michael. She's so desperate for a man that she subjects herself and her young son to Michael's company, even after she's discovered he just took part in a mercilessly bloody holdup.

Director and co-writer Demian Lichtenstein, yet another graduate of music-video preschool inexplicably elevated to feature films, has excised virtually every trace of intelligence, nuance and credible motivation from his characters.

Lichtenstein substitutes crass imagery: Hackneyed fast-motion transitions, ludicrous explosions, preposterous gunplay. During the big casino shootout, Lichtenstein seems so enamored of his rapid-fire cuts — from the gunmen, to a singing Elvis impersonator, to Vegas showgirls — that he does it over and over and over.

You'd think the Elvis theme would provide fodder for a stab at decent black comedy. But the Elvis-impersonation scenario ends surprisingly fast, and with the exception of minor humor injected by Jon Lovitz as a money launderer and Kevin Pollak and Thomas Haden Church as federal marshals, ``Graceland'' takes itself seriously.

One of the few sparks of life doesn't pop up until the closing credits, when Russell does an amusing Elvis impersonation amid a montage of ham-it-up scenes by the cast. Had the whole movie copped that playful tone, ``Graceland'' might have worked.

Instead, Lichtenstein delivers a movie that ain't nothin' but a hound dog, minus that hound word.

''3000 Miles to Graceland,'' released by Warner Bros., runs 130 interminable minutes and is rated R for strong violence, sexuality and language.


Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:

G — General audiences. All ages admitted.

PG — Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

PG-13 — Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children.

R — Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

NC-17 — No one under 17 admitted.