Elvis

Elvis ★★½

Suffers from Dewey Cox Syndrome, wherein the filmmakers desperately feel the need to provide you an extensive bullet point slide show about an artist’s cradle to grave existence in order to illustrate their importance (or “he needs to think about his ENTIRE LIFE before he plays”). Which, to be frank, is a problem when your subject is fucking Elvis, a guy whose too brief, seismically influential career could barely be contained to three hours by a documentarian as gifted as Thom Zimny (whose THE SEARCHER is a helluva sobering antidote to ELVIS). Enter Baz Luhrmann: the study buddy from hell who can’t stop blasting rails off his Rock & Roll 101 text book and then sweatily reciting the facts like that guy from the old Micro Machines commercials, his colossal info dump going in one ear and out the other as he keeps fucking with the radio dial and cranking the volume to try and showcase how Elvis’ singular fusion of cross cultural inspirations has now echoed through all of pop music for almost seventy years. To quote my wonderful partner in crime, Keri, “I felt like the whole fucking thing was gonna be a montage at one point and I was NOT into it!”

Thankfully, Baz does slow his roll and find something resembling a storytelling groove every now and again, which allows Austin Butler’s supernatural embodiment of Elvis to shine. Butler’s the real deal here, feeling downright possessed during the performance recreations (his early showdowns with moral crusaders and the ‘68 Comeback Special being real show stopping highlights). In the dramatic scenes, he underplays the country bumpkin aspects of The King, allowing him to become a driven hillbilly from the Memphis underclass who, above all, loved music and his momma. I mean, you come at the King and you best not miss, and Butler seems smart enough to know that if he at least nails the iconic visual aspects of his turn, that any momentary lapses into possible imitation are forgivable. The whole is much more important than the parts.

Speaking of holes, there’s a gaping void at the center of ELVIS in the form of Tom Hanks. It’s total “what the fuck are we even doing here?” shit from one of our best actors, as he transforms Colonel Tom Parker into a cartoonishly fat supervillain, speaking in a near Doctor Evil cadence during the movie’s baffling narration and mugging under pounds of latex as the career Snowman swindles his way to the top. It’s classic Baz nonsense as, like his GREAT GATSBY adaptation, he has someone in the orbit of superstardom telling the tale from a mere awed mortal’s perspective. In fact, if there’s anything that can practically guarantee ELVIS becoming a camp classic, it’s Hanks’ hammy presence, totally buying into Baz’s maximalist bullshit in all the wrong ways and creating something wholly grotesque and unintentionally hilarious. He somehow one-upped his cockney accent in CLOUD ATLAS, only no one else seems in on the joke.

All that being said, Baz Luhrmann’s ELVIS is exactly that: a hyperdrive history lesson so in love with it’s own modernity and cinematic Girl Talk remixes that delivers everything you think a Baz Luhrmann Elvis biopic will, right up to being so breathlessly exhaustive that it never pauses the track to actually let anything emotional resonate. There’s a decent chance that it turns out to be a massive hit, as the best reference point my brain kept coming back to was THE GREATEST SHOWMAN, a totally innocuous musical that you can take the whole family to, as the expertly staged song and dance numbers distract from the jankier aspects of that inoffensive slice of Target shopper cinema. Only ELVIS benefits from actually owning great music, and Baz is deploying The King’s full catalogue, simply because he can. So, even if you feel like you’ve been under contract for over half a decade in Las Vegas, body bloated from popcorn and exhausted from the stylistic methamphetamine rush, by the time ELVIS reaches its tragic conclusion, there’s a solid chance you’ll be seeking out old Sun Records recordings for the next month or so, and that’s not for nothing.