"My daughter married Michael Jackson?
Oh, I wish I were dead."
In Bubba Ho-Tep, Elvis Presley and former president John F. Kennedy fight a mummy who preys on the residents of the East Texas nursing home where they both live.
If that sentence alone isn't enough to make you want to see this film, nothing will. And hey, are you sure you're reading the right web site?
Bruce Campbell plays Elvis, which is the casting equivalent of shooting fish in a barrel. Campbell's natural swagger allows him to impersonate the King uncannily. Or at least, it would be a great impression if Presley were a barely-mobile 67 year-old with some embarrassing personal problems.
"These gang signs are getting
In a bit of casting that is not quite so obvious, Jack Kennedy is played by Ossie Davis. When we saw Bruce Campbell speak about this movie a while ago, he described the character by saying that he was black man who claimed he was JFK, that his death was faked by the CIA, his skin was dyed black, and part of his brain removed and placed in a jar in Washington D.C. "And the thing is," Bruce said, "He's right." The movie leaves this particular story open to interpretation, but in a movie that features a soul-devouring mummy from ancient Egypt, such things are hardly beyond the realm of possibility.
The New New Odd Couple.
Of course, a film needs to have more than just a one-sentence pitch to keep us entertained, and luckily Bubba Ho-Tep is pretty good at filling the time. As we said, Elvis is committed to a nursing home, no longer able to shimmy or shake. The home is plagued by a higher than expected fatality rate, even higher than one would expect at a facility for the very aged. One night between the fever dreams that have been plaguing him lately, Elvis is attacked by a giant scarab beetle. (During the battle, we discover that a bedpan makes a pretty good defensive weapon.) Even in Texas, this is a sure sign that something is wrong. Figuring that two pop icons are better than one, Elvis turns to his friend Jack for advice on the strange nocturnal visits.
Unable to raise concern from the nursing home staff, Elvis and Jack begin their own investigation. Some incredibly specific books about Egyptian mythology in Jack's library lead to a very scatological theory about soul sucking. In addition, a convenient vision gives Elvis a good look at the back story of the mummy, which was an artifact touring the country's museums when it was stolen and accidentally dumped in a nearby river. One thing that is never quite explained is why the mummy wears a hat and cowboy boots. (Our theory is that it crawled out of the river and said to itself, "When in Rome. . . .") That point, and the barest implication that the head of the nursing home knows about the mummy and approves of its actions, suggest that the upcoming DVD will include some interesting deleted scenes.
"I'm here for the Thriller
Most viewers familiar with Campbell from the Evil Dead films (and Army of Darkness in particular) will be ready for eyebrows cocked at the camera and Campbell's motor-mouth delivery of catchphrase after catchphrase. This is especially true given the fact that the Elvis persona comes pre-loaded with a number of memorable idioms, which do appear from time to time. Campbell is smart enough to realize, however, that a character of advanced age must be played differently; his Elvis is more curmudgeon and less wiseass. The humor comes partially from sardonic bravado, but more from the fact that even Kings of Rock & Roll are made humble by old age.
So wait, when Elvis gets old, he
turns into Liberace?
The best scenes come in flashback, as Presley relates the story of how he escaped death and wound up an old man in a rest home by the name of Sebastian Haff. The implication that Elvis is half the man he used to be is further driven home by the nature of his personal problems, and his inability to convince anyone of his true identity. Voiceovers by Campbell provide an internal monologue for the King, which reveals a good deal of regret in a man who, according to this story, pursued happiness in many places but eventually found it more or less where he began. Even in a film with more than a few silly scenes, Campbell manages to inspire the audience to sympathy with an aging legend who discovers too late what really matters in life, and whose fame has faded through his own machinations in order to reclaim a normal existence.
This undercurrent of serious messages is what gives Bubba Ho-Tep any substance at all; like many an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the supernatural monster action is an external reflection of the characters' internal lives. That reflection gives our leading men the excuse to try to recapture some of their former glory. If such introspection gives you the willies, though, you can take some solace in the fact that the Bubba Ho-Tep ramps up the fun towards the end, and gives the King an ending that is much more bang than whimper. It's a nearly perfect move for Campbell: a role that capitalizes on his b-movie roots, but isn't a slave to them.