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(2001) (Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner) (R)

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Action/Adventure: After successfully pulling off a violent, multimillion dollar casino heist, the various participants try to kill or undermine the efforts of their partners and others to get the money for themselves as they head north for the Canadian border.
After serving time for five and a half years, ex-con Michael (KURT RUSSELL) is in Nevada already preparing for his next crime with former cellmate, Murphy (KEVIN COSTNER). Along with Hanson (CHRISTIAN SLATER), Gus (DAVID ARQUETTE) and Franklin (BOKEEM WOODBINE), they plan to rob the Riviera Casino dressed as Elvis impersonators during International Elvis Week in Las Vegas.

Their $3.2 million heist goes as planned until a massive gun battle leaves one of their partners and plenty of others dead, with the four surviving criminals barely escaping via a helicopter piloted by Murphy's buddy, Jack (HOWIE LONG). When they return to their motel hideout, dissension quickly sets in over how to split up the money and several more partners end up dead out in the desert.

When Michael returns to the room to collect the loot, he discovers that a young kleptomaniac, Jesse (DAVID KAYE) - the son of local grifter Cybil Waingrow (COURTENEY COX) with whom Michael earlier had sex - has taken the money. Ever the opportunist and looking for a handsome and resourceful man in her life, Cybil finagles Michael into taking her and Jesse along with him as he heads toward the Canadian border where he plans to exchange the money with Jay Peterson (JON LOVITZ), an antiques dealer and money launderer.

To complicate matters, Murphy is also headed for the border in hopes of getting his money back, while Federal Marshals Damitry (KEVIN POLLAK) and Quigley (THOMAS HADEN CHURCH) try to find the men. As everyone makes their way to Seattle, it's only a matter of time before a volatile confrontation between the parties and another accomplice of Murphy's, Hamilton (ICE-T), occurs.

OUR TAKE: 2.5 out of 10
While today's teenyboppers might think that Britney, Christina and/or Madonna are the end all, be all when it comes to pop and cultural icons, they probably don't realize that a singer now dead for nearly a quarter of a century is still the most recognizable icon around the world in both name and appearance.

After all, how many performers or celebrities beyond Elvis Aron Presley have thousands of other people across the globe impersonating them everyday? Yes, the king may be dead and Elvis has definitely left the building, but the old saying of "Long live the King" certainly applies to Presley and the marketing prowess of Graceland.

Of course, it's due to those impersonators that most don't remember the young Elvis who helped launch early rock and roll and knocked everyone over with those hips on the old Sullivan show. Instead, they think of the jumpsuit wearing, Vegas incarnation that's become something of a cultural joke to some. That vision has also become so commonplace in most people's minds that they don't really give a second thought anymore about seeing someone dressed like a middle-aged Elvis on TV, in the movies, or even in person, especially if it's in Sin City.

Accordingly, what better disguise to don while pulling off a casino heist among the high rollers? That's the fun opening bit of "3000 Miles to Graceland," the mainstream directorial debut of music video/TV commercial veteran Demian Lichtenstein. In his film, five Elvis impersonators knock off the Riviera -- while dressed like the King during the International Elvis Impersonator Week in Vegas - and hope to get in and out without drawing undue attention to themselves thanks to their disguises.

Their plan, natch, goes awry - as does, unfortunately, the rest of the film - as an ensuing gun battle, greed and dissension impede and curtail their efforts. Probably one of the more violent pictures to come along in years - at least as far as total fired bullets are concerned - with the least likable set of characters in the same time frame, the film jettisons most of the Elvis material after that early sequence in favor of trying to be a hip and edgy, action thriller.

While there's nothing wrong with that and the film does have its share of hyper-kinetic moments that should please its target audience of teen and twenty-something males - what with its cool attitudes, stylish violence and repeated focusing on female body parts -- it stumbles for several reasons.

First off, the story - as written by Lichtenstein (who wrote and directed the little seen indie "Lowball") and co-writer Richard Recco (making his debut) - feels as if it's been recycled from various other "heist gone bad" films such as "Reservoir Dogs" and "The Asphalt Jungle" where greed and double-crossing undermine the plan and result in violence. Although the plot works on a basic level as it turns into something of a cross-country road movie, there isn't enough clever or imaginative deception and treason to make the film as much fun - in such regards - as it could have been.

It doesn't help that most of the characters are extremely loathsome, underdeveloped or lacking in some form of charisma. Yes, most real-life villains, thugs and criminals suffer from the same problem, but when we're watching such characters on the screen we must either like something about them or detest them to such a great degree that we root for the good guys or heroes to defeat them.

Unfortunately, neither factor is present here. Unlike the similar characters in "Die Hard" that were evil yet undeniably fascinating and "fun" in their own right, the ones here are just bad without benefiting from some charm.

That would be okay if they had some depth and dimensionality to them, but most of them don't, and the whole subplot of two federal marshals - the "good guys" played by Kevin Pollak ("The Whole Nine Yards," "Deterrence") and Thomas Haden Church ("George of the Jungle," TV's "Wings") - seems like a tacked on afterthought, present only to allow for the big but predictable gun battle sequence at the end. As a result, the viewer has no one to root for except perhaps the character played by Kurt Russell ("Soldier," "Breakdown") who's the least offensive villain, but only by default.

All of that leads to one of the film's bigger problems, namely a novice director who thinks he's helming a two-hour music video complete with all of the accompanying bell and whistle effects. When any film begins with two computer-generated scorpions engaged in battle (symbolic of the struggle between the two central characters that will follow) and features those frozen, revolving fly-by shots popularized in "The Matrix," one can immediately sense that there's cinematic trouble looming ahead.

Yes, Lichtenstein - like many other music video turned feature film directors before him - pulls every trick out of the bag and appears to be emulating something of a combination of the visual styles of latter Oliver Stone films and the aforementioned Keanu Reeves cyber-thriller. Although such effects have their place in the right setting and can add to the overall storytelling experience, here they simply stick out like sore cinematic thumbs, drawing undue attention to themselves in yet another case of "SeeWhatICanDo-itis" that does nothing but distract the viewer.

Fortunately, the freshman auteur has assembled an impressive cast. Unlike his somewhat redeemable "villainous" character in the 1993 film, "A Perfect World," Kevin Costner ("Thirteen Days," "For Love of the Game") plays nothing but a ruthless and murderous thug here. While he does so rather convincingly, the fact that there's no charm or real hero character to battle him diminishes a great deal of his effort.

Russell, who coincidentally played the King in the TV movie, "Elvis," is okay in the role, but is hampered by a flat and predictable subplot involving a hanger-on mother - played by Courteney Cox (the "Scream" films, TV's "Friends") - and her kleptomaniac son - played by David Kaye ("Legends of the Fall") - who want to make him part of their family. It's supposed to give the film its human/humane element, but it isn't particularly effective here, especially since we've seen it so many times before.

Various other "name" performers are present, including Christian Slater ("The Contender," "Very Bad Things"), David Arquette ("See Spot Run," "Ready to Rumble"), Ice-T ("Judgement Day," Trespass"), Jon Lovitz ("Small Time Crooks," "High School High") and others, but most have small, one-dimensional parts and can't do much with/aren't given enough time to do anything with their parts.

Overall, fans of action mayhem - meaning the target audience - may find the proceedings somewhat entertaining from just that standpoint, but even they will probably note the derivativeness and far too blatant directorial efforts at making the film look hip. If you're in the mood for that, check out Guy Ritchie's "Snatch" - a far superior film to this one in every way imaginable.

From the early moments where the Elvis impersonators don't even try to hide their weapons while walking out of the casino post-heist to all of the slow motion gun battles, blatant coincidences, and finally the sight of a character flying through a warehouse hanging upside down by his feet while firing his machine guns with both hands and managing to kill many people in the process, you'll have no doubt that this is an exercise in nothing but stylish violence over dramatic substance. In the end, "3000 Miles to Graceland" seems a lot further away that that, and thus rates as just a 2.5 out of 10.

Reviewed February 19, 2001 / Posted February 23, 2001

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