Sunday, September 18, 2005

Bruce almighty

No no, not that vaguely disappointing Jim Carrey movie ... I'm talking about the king of B-movies, Bruce Campbell, the lantern-jawed wonder we know and love from the Evil Dead films. If ever there was someone who raised schlocky, tongue-in-cheek television and film to an art form, Bruce is the man. Hail to the king, baby.

This post is apropos of watching one of his recent movies, Bubba Ho-Tep ... and how beautifully absurd the film is! Elvis -- played of course by Bruce in impressive lambchops, big-ass gold sunglasses and lots of makeup -- is alive and living in a nursing home in East Texas, having years ago switched places with an Elvis impersonator named Sebastian Haff in order to get away from the insanity of the limelight. Unfortunately, Haff was as fond of the booze and pills as Elvis was and died of an overdose. Elvis could never come back to his rightful place, having lost all evidence of the switch in a barbecue accident in his trailer park.

And so he finds himself, aged and decrepit with a broken hip in his past that forces him to use a walker. His best friend, played by Ossie Davis, thinks he's John F. Kennedy.

Elvis: No offense, Jack, but President Kennedy was a white man.
JFK: They dyed me this color! That's how clever they are!

As if this pairing wasn't beautiful enough, the decrepit duo discover that the recent deaths at the nursing home were the result of an ancient Egyptian mummy come back to life, who must sustain himself by sucking the souls of sleeping mortals out of their, um, assholes.

JFK: He was after my soul. Now you can get that out of any major orifice of a person's body—I read about it.
Elvis: Oh, yeah? Where, man? Hustler?

The mummy is pure Egyptian white trash -- sporting a cowboy hat and boots. Hence, "Bubba" Ho-Tep (some text helpfully defines "Bubba" for us before the movie begins as "Cracker, redneck, trailer trash").

What I loved about this film, besides the myriad conspiracy theories assembled (this film so gets a mention when I rewrite my thesis in book form) is Bruce's portrayal of the sad, aging, forgotten Elvis. For such an absurd premise, the film offers some remarkably poignant moments. The balance of reviews I've read pan the film for being so slow-moving -- it takes a good forty-five minutes, halfway into the film, before the whole mummy part of the plot really gets moving. But to my mind, that is one of the great strengths here ... Campbell's Elvis has some genuine pathos in his voice-overs as he lies motionless in bed, disingenuously pondering why fame and fortune couldn't fend off the ravages of age, whether Lisa Marie would visit him if she knew he was alive, and going over obsessively all the mistakes he made on the road to fame. You end up feeling for him enough that, when he girds himself for action finally, it is actually an edifying moment.

Elvis: Ask not what your rest home can do for you. Ask what you can do for your rest home.
JFK: Hey, you're copying my best lines!
Elvis: Then let me paraphrase one of my own. Let's take care of business.
JFK: Just what are you getting at, Elvis?
Elvis: I think you know what I'm getting' at Mr. President. We're gonna kill us a mummy.

This is followed by a shot of Elvis and JFK advancing down the hallway, ready to do battle--Elvis in his trademark white jumpsuit and walker, and JFK in a presidential suit and motorized wheelchair.

I loved this. Not a film for everyone, but despite its absurdity and deliberate B-movie quality, it actually contains some lovely meditations on the value of life and the depredations of age, to say nothing of forgotten icons and the culture of fame.


Mark P said...

God bless Ossie Davis. I didn't realize he had recently passed away. What a great actor.

b said...

I saw this last summer and absolutley found it hilarious. Bruce Campbell should run for President.

J-Po said...

I thought the film was great, too. I haven't yet had a chance to check it out on dvd; I'd love to hear Bruce's in-character Elvis commentary.

Word on the internets is that Ashton Kutcher is pegged to play Ash in the Evil Dead remake. The horror, the horror...

Loz said...

yeah, didn't you just love it? it was - exactly as you put it - absurd. if you stop and think about what you're watching it's so ridiculous you can't help but laugh again. definitely a bruce classic for me. i'm also interested in checking out his new book, making love the bruce campbell way.

andrew said...

never, but never fuck with the king!