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Movie Review

'Graceland' Is a Quirky Journey

More MTV video than caper, this road movie aims for the lowest common denominator.


"3000 Miles to Graceland" is one of those movies that makes you want to throw up your hands in despair, disgust, or maybe both. Made by a director who thinks it's cutting edge for a studio determined to anticipate the taste of a lowest-common-denominator audience, it's a film that takes a shot at redefining shameless for a new generation.

That would be the hooked-on-MTV crowd, addicted to the quick cuts, odd camera angles and cartoonish boom-boom-boom sensibility that "Graceland" provides. It's a reduction to near absurdity of many modern film trends, a motion picture that sits right on that often-visited line where the fashionable edges over into the vacuous and doesn't bother coming back.

Starring Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell as the leaders of a group of Elvis impersonators who rob a Las Vegas casino and then have to live (and die) with the consequences, "Graceland" deals with guys who don't care about anything. If you're burdened with old-fashioned concerns about violence and the treatment of women, not to mention an interest in things like plot coherence and a sense of humor that's managed to make it out of high school, you'd be well-advised to sit this one out.

Even if the press material didn't brag that director and co-writer (with Richard Recco) Demian Lichtenstein is a veteran of numerous music videos and commercials, "Graceland's" Game Boy sensibility would clue you in before the rolling of the opening credits, which features a battle to the death between computer-generated scorpions, is even half over.

Michael (Russell) is the first desperado to show his face at the crumbling Last Chance Motel outside of Las Vegas. Newly released from prison after 5 1/2 years, he no sooner steps out of his cherry red 1959 Cadillac than he runs into gorgeous local resident Cybil ("Friends' " Courteney Cox). She's all over him like a cheap suit and while they engage in frenetic sex her larcenous young son Jesse (David Kaye) is trying to lift the man's wallet.

Next to show, in a black Cadillac that reflects the color of his heart, is Murphy (Costner), Michael's bad-to-the-bone prison cellmate, who arrives with three recruited toughs (Christian Slater, David Arquette, Bokeem Woodbine) and eventually says the film's one good line: "Try and think of us as the Osmonds except we don't get along."

Murphy, who considers himself Elvis Presley's unacknowledged natural son, also has the film's one good idea. He and his cohorts take advantage of International Elvis Week at the Riviera to dress up like the King and, automatic weapons in their guitar cases, stride through the casino and knock it over.

That robbery, a glass-shattering, corpses-piling-up action sequence where no one reloads but more bullets fly than during a bad day at Stalingrad, is desperate to achieve the transcendence of John Woo but ends up little more than loud and busy.

The extended battle, one of two that bookend the film, is most notable for intercutting its carnage with a stage show featuring glamorous showgirls. It's of interest not because it's a particularly new concept--it isn't--but because it encapsulates "Graceland's" breezy amorality, its sense that hey, sexy chicks are cool, killing people is cool, it's all entertainment, man, so don't get all wound up.

The film's women--invariably young, attractive and, as they used to say, willing--also point up "Graceland's" strong guy-fantasy elements. Adding to that are the presence of iconic cars, large-caliber weapons and a cast (including performers like Howie Long and Ice-T) that presents a wall-to-wall united front of macho attitude and tough-guy posturing.

Actually, Russell and Costner are acceptable in their roles, the former calling on his experience starring in TV's "Elvis" and the latter displaying a previously unexplored passion for playing a kill-anything-that-walks psychopath. Yet neither performance can do much for a film that, after that first casino shootout, devolves into a meandering road movie that proves, should anyone harbor doubts, that there's no honor--not to mention smarts--among thieves these days.

What sinks "Graceland" as much as anything else is its insistence on throwing in a completely bogus tear-jerker subplot about the touching relationship that develops between Michael and Cybil's young son. It comes as a shock, and not an especially pleasant one, to realize that this hollow and contrived mess actually expects us to feel something for its empty characters. Don't hold your breath.

* MPAA rating: R for strong violence, sexuality and language. Times guidelines: Large amounts of cartoonish sex and violence.

'3000 Miles to Graceland'

Kurt Russell: Michael

Kevin Costner: Murphy

Courteney Cox: Cybil Waingrow

Christian Slater: Hanson

Kevin Pollack: Damitry

David Arquette: Gus

Howie Long: Jack

Warner Bros. presents a Morgan Creek and Franchise Pictures production, in association with Lightstone Entertainment, released by Warner Bros. Director Demian Lichtenstein. Producers Elie Samaha, Demian Lichtenstein, Richard Spero, Eric Manes and Andrew Stevens. Executive producers Don Carmody, Tracee Stanley. Screenplay by Richard Recco and Demian Lichtenstein. Cinematographer David Franco. Editor Michael Duffy. Costume designer Mary McLeod. Music George S. Clinton. Production designer Robert De Vico. Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.

In general release

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