Friday, September 21, 2007

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001)

(Spoiler alert.) This flick has been given a lot of bad press, but it is easy to see why. Saddled with a lot of pretty big Hollywood names, most people who have seen it probably expected something else than the farcical, thoroughly socially unredeeming multi-violent black comedy that the film is. Had 3000 Miles to Graceland starred a bunch of unknown (outside of) Hong Kong actors or third-string American character actors, it is easy to imagine that Daniel Lichtenstein's second cinematic release would have been better received, if not become an underground favorite. Which is not to say that the film is a masterpiece—it is too flawed to come close to being one—but much like the equally illogical, violent, visually exciting, hokey and unrealistic Hong Kong ballistic ballets it owes so much to, 3000 Miles to Graceland is a pretty damned good ride. If you're a fan of Kevin Costner or Kurt Russell or even Courteney Cox, go rent a different movie; if you generally or totally despise one or more or the three names, then this film might be worth a gander. Who knows, you might come away thinking that for the first time ever, the given Hollywood hack has finally made a good film.
In any event, 3000 Miles to Graceland is probably the best multi-violent white trash action film to hit the screen since Tony Scott's True Romance (1993 / trailer) which, aside from being an early Tarentino-scripted film—a filmmaker Lichtenstein obviously respects—also features Christian Slater, whose appearance in 3000 Miles to Graceland is amazingly short.
Lichtenstein's only prior big screen credit is the muggy, barely passable low-budget thriller Lowball (1997), thus it is a mystery how he managed to get so many names to appear in this movie.
Since graduating from film school, Lichtenstein's earned his keep by doing commercials and he's obviously learned a lot of tricks about how to make visuals look good or interesting; in 3000 Miles to Graceland he pulls all of them out of the bag. (Had this movie been made before the advent of MTV, hell, it would probably even be called "arty.") Sometimes the movie goes into visual overload—like when it shows an explosion from 100 different angles—but in general the stylistic excess remains enjoyable, the orgiastic excesses eventually serving to underscore the general irony of the movie's innate lowbrow black humor.
As mentioned before, it is easy to pick apart the script, but why bother? 3000 Miles to Graceland is not a socially relevant movie; it has all the redeeming values of a porno film but was made with a Hollywood budget and production value and without the bonking. The flick is simply big-budget trash, and needs to be accepted as such to be enjoyed. (Give it another 15 years, and it'll be a video junkie's secret fave.) With that in mind, it doesn't matter that Michael Zane (Kurt Russell) is the good guy only because he's the only one who doesn't shoot to kill during the big robbery, or that Cybil Waingrow (Courteney Cox) falls in love with Zane for no reason other than that he's a good fuck or that she is such a loving mom that she simply deserts her son Jess (David Kaye) at one point, or that Zane seems to be amazingly technically efficient for a freshly released con, or that Thomas may be a cold-blooded killer but he still swerves to avoid hitting a coyote, or that the character Hamilton (Ice-T) exists for no reason other than add more flash to the final shoot out, or that Thomas kills everybody who crosses his path but Cybil (who he oddly enough simply puts into the car trunk), or that the fact that Thomas tends to betray his buds indiscriminately doesn't seem to bother other buds like Jack (Howie Long), etc. etc. etc.
Okay, the script is not Oscar material—in truth, neither is most of the pretentious shit that normally gets the golden dildo—but this movie isn't out to get any awards. It's out to be flashily and crassly entertaining, and it is. Check your brain in at the door.
Unless, of course, your one of those people who like to keep their eyes open for all sorts of inside jokes, which this movie is full of. But is it really that interesting to know stuff like that when the little brat kicks Kurt Russell in the leg in the opening scene, the scene is a direct reference to It Happened at the World's Fair (1963), in which Kurt Russell (as a lil' chil') runs up and kicks Elvis in the shin?
The plot is hardly exciting; what keeps the film going is simply the visual acrobatics of the direction. Zane (Russell) shows up at some gritty motel outside of Vegas to take part in a casino robbery during an Elvis imitator convention. To pass the time and give the flick a romance sub-plot he bonks a white trash sex-pot named Cybil (Cox) who has a kleptomaniac son named Jesse (David Kaye). Dressed as Elvis imitators, Elvis' bastard son Murphy (Kevin Costner), Hanson (Slater), Gus (David Arquette), Franklin (Bokeem Woodbine) and Zane pull off one of the most violent robberies since the fucked-up one in Michael Mann's Heat (1995) and fly off in a helicopter. Franklin, being black, is the first one to go, dumped from the helicopter after taking a bullet in the heart during the heist. Murphy, a true Elvis-from-hell, ends up double-crossing and shooting everybody, but since Zane was wearing his trusty ol' bullet proof vest, he survives and takes off with the cash, Cybil and Jesse in tow. The chase is on, with federal marshals after Murphy who is after Zane who is after Cybil, after she dumps him with the kid and takes off with the money. There are showdowns on highways, bodies all over the place and a happy end, with Murphy dying next to a toilet (another in-joke for those who know where the real Elvis died) while Zane, Cybil and Jesses sail off into the sunset.
The shootouts do get a bit long, but the black humor and sheer adrenaline force of the flick goes a long way. The love story aspect doesn't do too much damage and, in fact, might help to make the film a bit more palatable to the other half of the household who likes that icky-stuff in her films. Russell is fine as a semi-Elvis, as was to be expected by an actor who owes his return from childhood-actor-has-been-obscurity to John Carpenter's TV film Elvis (1979). And though the motivations of her character's actions are often hard to understand, Cox makes a more than acceptable cheap fuck. Best of all, however, is Costner. The perennial has-been chews the scenery like a true asshole, filling the screen with more presence than is found in all his previous films put together—if he were smart, he'd stop making that patriotic, family-value crap he likes to star in and concentrate on a new career as a (nasty) character actor.
So, for you multi-violent trash lovers out there, if you want a break from having to read the badly written subtitles of the obscure Hong Kong flicks at your local video store, give this amoral, white trash piece of celluloid a chance. Hey Mikey, you'll like it.

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