September 2, 2001 -- I missed "3,000 Miles to Graceland" when it first came out, but I finally caught it the other day on VHS tape (it wasn't available on DVD, except at ridiculously high rental prices), and it wasn't as bad as I was led to believe it was.
It isn't a particularly good action film, but it is more entertaining than similar products like "Reindeer Games" and "Swordfish." While it does contain many action film clichés, it also has some quirky characters who give it some charm. Kevin Costner heads a star-laden cast which includes Kurt Russell, Christian Slater and Courteney Cox. Costner, who plays Tom Murphy, leads a gang of Elvis impersonator bandits in a daring Las Vegas casino robbery. Also in the gang are Russell ("Soldier"), who plays Michael Zane, Slater ("The Contender"), who plays Hanson, Gus (played by David Arquette of "Scream 3"), Franklin, (played by Bokeem Woodbine of "The Big Hit" and "Dead Presidents") and Jack (played by athlete/actor Howie Long of "Broken Arrow").
The actual casino heist only accounts for a small portion of the story. The rest involves an extended, running conflict between Murphy (Costner) and Zane (Russell). Tagging along for fun are a small-time grifter, Cybil Waingrow (Courteney Cox of "Scream 3") and her young son, Jesse James Waingrow (played by David Kaye). The movie starts out with a very odd animated battle between two scorpions, perhaps symbolic of the battle between Murphy and Zane. While Zane is a typical anti-hero, Murphy is truly dark, brooding and evil, a stone cold killer. A relationship also develops between Zane and Cybil Waingrow and her son. Cybil is so morally ambiguous it is hard to tell whose side she is on until the end of the film.
While the script is weak, the actors do a fine job bringing their characters to life, particularly Costner, Cox, Kaye, Slater and Jon Lovitz ("Small Time Crooks"), who plays Jay Peterson, the guy who is supposed to fence the money from the robbery. Lovitz has a very nice scene while he is under the gun. Aside from that particular scene, the characters in the film are not really believable. They are, however, entertaining as examples of the Hollywood gangster myth, which has its roots in old Hollywood westerns. Russell is an example of the honorable crook. He doesn't mind robbing people, but he won't kill them unless he has to. Costner at first seems to have some principles, but it soon becomes apparent that he is willing to betray anyone to get what he wants. It wouldn't be a Costner portrayal, however, without his character having a little bit of existential nobility. His final scene is chock full of heavy-handed heroic symbolism.
In addition to the archetypal gangsters in the film, the story also taps into Elvis Presley mythology. I don't know if the King would approve of being associated with outlaws. Kurt Russell is part of the Elvis myth himself. His first movie role was that of a kid in "It Happened at the World's Fair" in 1960. Russell, a child actor, kicked Elvis in the shins as part of a scene he did in that film with the Rock and Roll legend. Later, Russell received an Emmy nomination for his starring role in the 1979 John Carpenter film, "This is Elvis."
This is, of course, a popcorn movie. It is filled with gunfire from large, phallic guns and ridiculously large explosions. The movie is loaded with testosterone. Women appear mainly as sex objects (although Cox's character is very aggressive). It is impossible to take this film very seriously since it is so obviously filmed in comic book style for a mass market of young males. Now that the film is out on video, it can more readily reach the lower end of that market's age group despite the film's "R" rating because of its strong violence, adult sexual themes and obscene language. For our purposes, the film rates a C+.
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