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"BUBBA HO-TEP"
(2003) (Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis) (R)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy/Horror: A man who claims he's Elvis joins another elderly man who believes he's JFK to battle an Egyptian mummy who's killing other residents of their Texas nursing home.
PLOT:
In a present day nursing home in Mud Creek, Texas, one of the residents (BRUCE CAMPBELL) claims to be Elvis Pressley. Although old and decrepit, he looks and acts like the King, albeit at an advanced age. Since his contract burned up long ago regarding him switching places with an Elvis impersonator back before his well-publicized death, no one believes him.

That is, except for a fellow nursing home resident (OSSIE DAVIS) who has a similar if outlandish sounding claim. Despite being a black man who doesn't remotely resemble former President Jack Kennedy, he swears he survived the 1963 assassination attempt, had sand placed in his head and was dyed black as part of the conspiracy.

Notwithstanding his own claim, Elvis thinks Jack is crazy, but things get even stranger than that. When a recently resurrected Egyptian mummy, Bubba Ho-Tep (BOB IVY), starts killing off the other residents in their nursing home, the two men form an unlikely alliance to figure out what's going on and then try to put a stop to the mummy's deadly nighttime activities.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Ask most any number of movie reviewers or hardcore moviegoers and they'll likely tell you that their biggest complaint about new releases is that few of them are original anymore. True, some put interesting spins on previous material, but parts or the entire resultant product nevertheless still seem familiar.

And then along comes a film like "Bubba Ho-Tep." Not only does it win kudos for the best or at least most unusual title of the year, but it also has a plot description that's sure to evoke looks of disbelief and/or amusement from those who hear it.

Here's the gist. A nursing home resident swears he's Elvis (who switched places with an impersonator long ago) and joins forces with another resident who claims to be JFK (part of the assassination conspiracy involved dying his skin a different color) to battle a resurrected Egyptian mummy that wears cowboy attire and is killing the other nursing home residents.

If that doesn't sound amusing, intriguing or just plain different and weird, you obviously don't see enough repetitive movies. If only the execution were as good as the premise. As written and directed by Don Coscarelli (the "Phantasm" films, "The Beastmaster") from a story by Joe R. Lansdale, the film starts off interestingly enough and takes its time in introducing all of its story elements and players.

We first see Elvis - or just a demented nursing home resident - contemplating via voice over narration how he ended up how and where he is. Bruce Campbell - who starred in the "Evil Dead" trilogy - plays the King as he would have appeared in his later years. It's not a pitch-perfect impersonation, but it works. Besides, we have no idea how the real Pressley would have turned out if he hadn't reportedly taken that drug-induced spill off his "throne."

Yet, once the film introduces Ossie Davis ("Doctor Dolittle," "I'm Not Rappaport") as former President Kennedy (with no impression attempted since, you see, "they" turned him into a black man), and the two figure out the undead angle, the effort sputters, runs out of steam and ultimately unravels like a cheaply wrapped mummy.

The rest of the film then involves them investigating Ho-Tep - Bob Ivy ("Phantasm IV," "Warlords") in lots of non-traditional movie mummy garb and makeup - and coming up with a way to put this mummy under wraps again and this time for good. That leads to an anticlimactic finale that isn't campy enough to be fun and instead is bad, boring and otherwise a bust.

I suppose if one tries hard enough, some symbolism and/or metaphors -- about fleeting fame, aging and how history views popular figures -- could be extracted from the proceedings. That's particularly true more toward the beginning when the mostly bedridden Pressley ponders his past, present and future.

Yet, that and the overall effort feel half-baked at best. That results in an odd drama, comedy and horror hybrid that initially and then only partially gets by solely due to the bizarre sounding premise and our understandable curiosity about where things might next lead and ultimately end.

As Pressley, Campbell does a decent job playing the part. While I'm not sure how we're ultimately supposed to think about the validity of the character's claim, the actor has some fun throwing in the King's mannerisms to convince us that he believes it's all real.

The same doesn't hold true for Davis, although there's little (beyond a strange, bullet hole like wound on the back of his head) to make us think otherwise. The veteran actor is decent in the part, but pretty much plays the same sort of character he's been doing for what seems like a long while. I was disappointed that there isn't enough fun with him thinking the mummy is part of the continuing assassination plot against him.

Aside from Ivy (who could be Michael Jackson under the makeup for all we know), Ella Joyce ("Set it Off," "Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot") briefly appears as the nurse who cares for Elvis and the others.

As I watched the early parts of this film unfold, I kept hoping that it would live up to its wild sounding premise. While I pretty much knew that was a near impossible task, the film's failure is all the more disappointing since it promises something different from the norm. Oh, it's certainly that all right, but "Bubba Ho-Tep" turns out to be all mummy bark and little mummy bite. Accordingly, the film rates as just a 3.5 out of 10.




Reviewed December 19, 2003 / Posted January 9, 2004


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