Nine-tenths attitude and one-tenth gunplay, this testosterone-fueled story has a tasty premise – in the middle of an Elvis convention in Las Vegas, a team of five Elvis impersonators rob a casino. (A couple of weeks ago it was a high school cheerleaders robbing a bank – what’s next, the Teletubbies knocking over a convenience store?) But despite some clever cinematography, fast-paced editing, and the never-ending appeal of Elvis and Elvis impersonators, it never rises above average.
The movie makes a bad mistake in getting the heist out of the way quickly. We do not get to see them plan – we just get to see them bicker on the way there. We don’t get the fun of seeing them plot the robbery so we can be impressed with their solutions to the challenges posed by security systems. That means that much of the rest of the movie is anti-climactic, taking far too much time with post-heist schemes and betrayals. And, though I know some will disagree with me on this, there is just too much shooting. Rambo didn’t fire off as many rounds as these guys do. After a while it gets tired, and so does the audience.
Kevin Costner plays Murphy, the man behind the scheme. He hooks up with Michael (Kurt Russell, looking happy to be back in his Elvis clothes after playing Elvis in a memorable made-for-TV movie 21 years ago). They and three other guys (Christian Slater, David Arquette, and Bokeem Woodbine) suit up as Elvises and break into the cash room of the casino. Things do not go exactly as planned, and there is a lot of shooting involving a lot of automatic weapons. Most of the rest of the movie focuses on Murphy, Michael, and Cybil (Courteny Cox), a down-on-her-luck woman with a larcenous young son, who is supposed to be endearing but comes across as a budding sociopath. They try to get away with the money with Murphy and federal marshals (Thomas Haden Church and Kevin Pollack — both terrific) in pursuit.
The rumor is that Costner and Russell battled over the final cut of the film and even tested two different versions. This one may have been a compromise, because there are some plot holes that appear to have been set up to be resolved but just got left hanging when it was recut. Or, it may be that writer/director Demien Lichtenstein was more interested in jazzy images and explosions than he was in the plot. Many who will want to see this movie will feel the same way.
Parents should know that this movie is extremely violent, at a level that would have received an X-rating just a few years ago. The movie also has very strong language, bathroom humor, and sexual references and situations (explicit, but no nudity). Couples have sex immediately after they meet. Many characters are killers and thieves to the point of preposterousness. They deceive each other and betray each other and they kill carelessly and recklessly. A child is an incorrigible thief. He is repeatedly exposed to extreme violence and sexual activity and he is both abandoned and kidnapped.
Families who see this movie should talk about the enduring appeal of Elvis, and how the dreams of the different characters affected their choices.
Families who enjoy this movie will also like the equally violent but more literate “Way of the Gun” and “The Usual Suspects.” Families looking for a more traditional heist film will like “Ocean’s Eleven,” “How to Steal a Million,” and “Topkapi.”