Hail to the King, baby

By Peter Hemminger

What a drag getting old is.

Mick Jagger said it almost 40 years ago, and though the fates have been kinder to him than most, there’s a dread that comes with aging. Spending a life alone save for a few awkward medical treatments, never visited by the grown children who are simply too busy to find one afternoon in a five year stretch to stop by–rest homes are one of the few things that truly frighten me.

Things would be even worse if that rest home happened to be haunted by an Egyptian soul-sucking mummy dressed in cowboy hat and boots. Although, then there’d at least be something interesting going on.

In Bubba Ho-Tep, it’s another rock star who faces the perils of aging.

Elvis Presley (Bruce Campbell), long presumed dead simply because of overwhelming evidence supporting that conclusion, is actually alive and well. Well, at least alive.

Having traded places with an Elvis impersonator many years earlier, Elvis escaped the confines of his wealth and fame. It went well until the fake Elvis died and the real one fell off a stage and into a broken hip, a Texas nursing home and a mysterious pus-filled boil on his pecker. That’s not even mentioning the soul-sucking mummy.

It should be abundantly clear by now that Bubba Ho-Tep is not your average movie. The mere inclusion of Army of Darkness’ Bruce Campbell assures it’s cult success. Bruce Campbell fighting a mummy, even better. Bruce Campbell as a geriatric Elvis, teamed up with a black John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) fighting a mummy in their retirement home and you have a film whose cult status is certain.

It’s certainly not a movie for everyone, but it possesses a wry wit and a genuine affection for its characters that more than makes up for the slow pace and lack of any true suspense.

Campbell’s Elvis is a convincing portrayal of a man who made a decision many years back and must now live with the consequences. He wonders if his former wife would still find him attractive. He wonders if his daughter would visit, if she knew he was alive. After flipping by an Elvis movie marathon on TV, he sits up in his adjustable bed and laments he shouldn’t be ashamed of anything now because he obviously sold his pride many years ago. It’s a great performance, one that adds depth to a role which could easily have been played purely for camp appeal.

Equally appealing is Ossie Davis as a man who may or may not be JFK. He claims the CIA dyed his skin black, which would be unorthodox but still plausible. He also claims some portion of his brain has been replaced with a small bag of sand, which is less likely. Davis plays the role with a natural charm befitting that most charismatic of presidents. Loony as he may seem, he’s definitely sure of himself, and it’s impossible not to like him.

It’s on the strength of these two performances, as well as a consistently insightful script filled with quirks that Bubba Ho-Tep elevates itself above what could have been a one joke movie. The film is justifiably slow paced–old people move slowly, mummies even slower–but it may be too sluggish to satisfy the Evil Dead crowd.

It certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but I’m sure it’ll find an audience. After all, watching Elvis kick some Egyptian ass is just fricken cool.

Bubba Ho-Tep opens at the Uptown Stage and Screen Fri., Mar. 5.

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