January 13, 2004 -- “Bubba Ho-Tep” is an original, unique film about Elvis and JFK battling a soul-sucking mummy in a current-day Texas nursing home. O.K., the story is silly, but it is still an inspiring tale concerning the true nature of courage. In fact, it tells us more about courage than many highly-touted movies this year, including “Cold Mountain” and “The Last Samurai.”
Bruce Campbell of “Army of Darkness” stars as Elvis Presley. There is a very elaborate explanation of how Elvis is still alive, involving an Elvis impersonator who trades places with the real Elvis and then dies. At any rate, Elvis is stuck in a rundown Texas nursing home because of broken hip. He suffers indignities at the hands of the nurses and is laughed at by most people around him. Somehow, he still embodies the grace and dignity of the Elvis myth. He fends off an attack by a giant insect and he repels a deadly mummy that haunts the nursing home. The mummy, escaped long ago from an Egyptian exhibit, sneaks into the nursing home at night and robs the souls from residents who are about to die.
Elvis first gets the news about the mummy from JFK (played by Ossie Davis of “Dr. Doolittle”). JFK, of course, loves conspiracy theories and is a fan of the occult. JFK reads a book on the occult and figures out what is behind the mysterious deaths at the nursing home. The story of how JFK is still alive (and black) is even more complex than Elvis' story. Much of the plot is spent figuring out what is going on with the mummy and how to stop him. When Elvis, with his walker, and JFK in his wheelchair, head out one night to battle to the death with the mummy, it sets a new standard for courage. These guys don't really have much to fight for. They decide to fight for each other and for their fellow nursing home residents. After all, who else will fight for these people? If that isn't the definition of a hero, I don't know what is.
Bruce Campbell, an underrated actor, gives the best performance of his career as Elvis, including a great Elvis impersonation on stage in a flashback scene. Campbell shows that old Elvis pride and magic that you might expect of the real Elvis if he really was alive. There is a real dignity about his performance, despite these absurd and demeaning circumstances. Ossie Davis is equally impressive as JFK. His deadpan portrayal of this wacked out nut is letter perfect. He also has that same kind of courage and dignity that Elvis has. Their final, epic battle with the mummy is inspiring. You probably will never see a more heroic, or unlikely pair of warriors, than these two.
The film suffers a bit from a tiny budget, a slow pace, and some forgettable supporting performances. Writer-director Don Coscarelli (“Phantasm”) makes the most of his resources. There are very few sets, for instance. Most the story takes place in just a couple of rooms. It almost looks like a play. Despite these drawbacks, this is a good film. It rates a B.
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