Sunday, April 24, 2016

What the Flick?! 3000 Miles to Graceland

As Kurt Russell month rolls on, I unearthed a forgotten yet extremely interesting if not instant classic in his filmography, 2001's 3000 Miles to Graceland. While I grew up on Big Trouble in Little China, Escape From New York then L.A., Tango & Cash, Executive Decision, Breakdown, Soldier and especially Tombstone, 3000 just went unnoticed on my radar for some reason. I recall it playing on the college channel of free movies but I only caught the random opening titles where CGI scorpions fight each other and bits of forced dialog to pieces of tough talking Kevin Costner before random, hyper stylized and overlong shoot outs. Cut to last night and we popped in the ol' DVD fresh from Amazon to soak up some Kurt Russell and Kevin Costner as Elvis impersonators who rob a casino during a convention dedicated to the King of Rock and Roll.

When the credits ended, all I could exclaim was "wow, what a weird frigging movie". 3000 Miles to Graceland was directed and co-written by Demian Lichtenstein, a former music video helmer for the likes of Sting, Eric Clapton and Queen Latifah with a script assist from Richard Recco. We meet just out of prison Michael Zane (Kurt Russell) at a little crap hole hotel outside Las Vegas, he immediately falls in with hot single mom Cybil (Courteney Cox) and her pickpocket young son Jesse (David Kaye). Boots are knocked and wallet stolen as Zane waits for partner Murphy (Kevin Costner), a mean looking hombre with crazy side burns. Murphy has rounded up an eclectic posse of shady characters played by Christian Slater, Bokeem Woodbine and David Arquette to knock off a casino during a big Elvis convention. While Murph and his cronies go in strong with guns blazing and grab millions in cash, Michael hot wires an elevator so they can meet helicopter pilot Jack (Howie Long) on the roof. Of course things go wrong, there's no honor among thieves and Murph leaves his crew for dead but ol' Michael survives and is soon on the run with Cybil and Jesse as they try to find the cash and elude Murphy's psychotic bad guy tendencies. Thomas Haden Church and Kevin Pollak show up as the FBI agent types on their tail and after a detour into the pacific northwest, Murph and Michael have their final showdown at a shipping yard.

Part action flick, part heist movie, pieces of a fractured romantic comedy and straight slapstick, 3000 is one strange hybrid of a flick. First off, it's very of it's time in the post Pulp Fiction era of big music, editing, violence and slickness. While Tarantino's taste made his choices part of a personality infused film, Lichtenstein just throws it all in with no real purpose it seems. Music blares but is extremely generic and just loud. Action scenes showcase lots of gun fire, oh so much slow motion, things breaking and exploding but no real story, rhyme or reason. Russell is fine as the likeable and non-violent ex-con while Costner is solid as the vicious yet interesting villain. The rest of the cast doesn't have a whole lot to do but the familiar faces run deep as in addition to the already listed, you get Jon Lovitz and Ice-T popping up later in the film. I was surprised at the amount of objectifying of women; Michael gazing at Cybil's butt, Murph picking up a young lady at a gas station, waitresses bending over, etc. but no actual nudity in the rated R film. Being the early 2000's, the action is noteworthy as it's mostly done practically with glass breaking, squibs going off, choppers flying in, cars crashing and a giant, over done explosion shown from half a dozen angles. In the end, not a good movie but strangely memorable, probably due to it's cast, skewed sense of hunor and Russell's excellent take on Elvis in a couple scenes drawing on his history with The King. First appearing opposite of him in 1963's It Happened at the World's Fair, playing him in 1979's Elvis TV movie and providing a quick voice cover in 1993's Forrest Gump.

3000 Miles to Graceland came at a curious point in both Russell and Costner's careers. After years building up his film roles and becoming a dependable box office draw, Russell would make $3, $7, $10 then $15 million bucks for a movie, culminating with 1998's big budget action flop Soldier. 3000 seemed like an easy rebound for Russell as he shared the leading man duties with Costner who became a star off of hits The Untouchables, Bull Durham and Field of Dreams before taking control of his own destiny to produce and direct Oscar winning mega hit Dances with Wolves. Critical and commercial successes Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, JFK and The Bodyguard followed before high profile disappointments A Perfect World, Wyatt Earp and $80 million directing flop follow up The Postman3000's trailer made it seem like a fun and kitschy action flick starring two of the biggest names of the 1990's. During the credits we get Kurt Russell shucking, jiving and lipsyncing to Elvis while other cast members look silly dancing and waving prop guns. The now defunct official website made history by hosting three featurettes of flash animation to act as a prequel to the film, voiced by Costner and cast. But reviews were not kind and the $40 to $60 million film opened #3, grossing an anemic $7 million bucks on it's way to just $15.7 million total in the United States. It is rumored that both stars cut a version of the film, Russell's being more comedic and focusing on Michael's relationship with Cibyll while Costner's was reported to be more action focused. Lichtenstein attended Costner's appearance on Inside the Actor's Studio that year while Costner, Cox, Arquette and Stallone hit the red carpet premiere. But just last week, Russell stated he had nothing nice to say about Costner so who knows what happened.

The film was a product of Elie Samaha's independent movie house Franchise Pictures which also produced cult classic The Boondock Saints, several direct to video Dolph Lundgren titles, Bruce Willy's The Whole Nine Yards, notorious flop Battlefield Earth and several under performing Stallone pictures before shuttering under allegations then a judgement that they were padding budgets and overcharged partner Intertainment $100 million plus. While Costner and Russell bounced back and are still going strong today, Lichtenstein would never work with an as ample budget or cast again. Producer Samaha's film output slowed but he's still a force in the real estate world, co-owning the Chinese Theatre in Hollywood that recently underwent an overhaul to make it the largest capacity venue IMAX but not actually being a true IMAX screen.

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