Friday, November 19, 2010

BUBBA HO-TEP (2002): “What Would Elvis Do?”

Thank God for Elvis Aaron Presley!  First, he saved all of us from being condemned to listen to our parents’ music.  And then, per the film Bubba Ho-tep, he saved our parents’ generation from the curse of the Mummy.  You see, contrary to popular belief, Elvis did not die at Graceland in Memphis, Tennessee.  The man who we thought was Elvis that actually died at the estate was an Elvis' imitator by the name of Sebastian Haff.  The real Elvis went on to become a successful "Elvis' imitator" only to have his career cut short when he fell off the stage and broke his hip. 
After his fall from the stage, Elvis (Bruce Campbell) was confined to a convalescence home in Mud Creek, Texas.  Since the death of Haff, there are no records left to verify that the real Elvis still lives.  Mostly, Elvis is at the mercy of a nursing home staff that treats his story as the ravings of a senile old man.  Every day is a humiliation for Elvis and his fellow patients.  The once youthful Presley is now beleaguered by all of the complaints of old age.  He probably is even suffering from cancer.  Worse, he and his fellow patients are treated as if their feelings and dignity are of no consequence.  For example, Elvis never even meets the daughter of his roommate that he has had for three years until after the roommate dies.  If not for the intervention of Elvis, the purple-heart that his roommate received in the war would have remained in the garbage can that the daughter tossed the medal into next to Elvis’ bed.
Fortunately, Elvis finds a friend at the Shady Rest Retirement Home by the name of John (“Jack”) Fitzgerald Kennedy (Ossie Davis), the former President of the United States.  Now Jack, having survived an assassination attempt in Dallas where he took a bullet to the back of the head, has a few issues of his own.  One notable one is that he now happens to be black.  The doctors turned Kennedy into a black man in order to disguise him in the event that there are any future assassination attempts made upon him.  Though Jack openly discusses what had happened in Dallas, nobody really believes that he is the former President.  So, like Elvis, Jack is forced to endure the condensension of the foolish people that administer his care. 
It appears that Elvis and Jack will simply have to live out the remainder of their lives resigned to the fact that they will never again make great contributions to humanity.  This all changes one evening when the two are shaken out of their lethargy when an actual attempt to kill Jack was made at the home.  Jack at first believes that the ugly creature that tried to kill him was Lyndon Johnson.  However, Elvis clears up any misconceptions about that by informing Jack that Lyndon Johnson is already dead.  Fortunately, though somewhat addled by the assassin’s bullet, Jack Kennedy’s brilliance is still in tact and he is able to adduce from a number of seemingly random deaths at the nursing home exactly what is occurring.  The rest home is cursed, but by what still requires additional investigation.  Jack comes upon a story about a bus possibly carrying the remains of an Egyptian Mummy that had recently disappeared.  Elvis, now rejuvenated and therefore more mobile because he once again feels he has a purpose, had spotted the remains of a bus beneath the surface of a nearby river.  Elvis and Jack deduce that the soul of the Mummy is now strolling the halls of the nursing home sucking the souls out of the hapless residents to assure its own continued existence.  Neither Elvis nor the former President thinks this is a fair practice and they are determined to put a stop to the creature’s (or whatever it is) notorious deeds.  Elvis in his jumpsuit and Jack in his best Presidential suit arrange for a confrontation with the beast to bring an end to this curse for all time.  Now this Mummy that Elvis has named “Bubba Ho-tep” (Bob Ivy) is truly as ugly as LBJ.  Bubba Ho-tep would probably have been able to continue on taking the lives of the inmates for centuries to come if it had not chosen to thrive at a residence inhabited by both a former President and the King of Rock & Roll.  And so in the final showdown, though both Jack and Elvis tragically die in their efforts to save mankind, the two save their own souls by not going down without a fight.  In fact, they manage to set Bubba Ho-tep on fire and forever destroy his reign here on earth.
Bubba Ho-tep is all very complicated, but it is also a fitting tribute to a great man (actually, two great men).  The movie Bubba Ho-tep is a comedy, melodrama, horror-flick and quasi Spaghetti Western of the kind directed by Sergio Leone and starring Clint Eastwood.  In fact, the soundtrack does not contain any Elvis’ songs.  Instead, it plays out a lonely melody somehow making us reminiscent of those Saturday afternoons in the cinema when we were kids while we watched the Sheriff in the white hat facing down four bad guys in the town square.  I was very impressed that Bubba Ho-tep stuck so very closely to the true story of two very great American men.  Granted, it may have taken some liberties concerning the final confrontation with the creature called Bubba Ho-tep, but at least the ending is believable.  (Unfortunately, it took no more liberties with the truth than did Oliver Stone in the movie JFK, or Steven Spielberg did in the movie Munich.  But hey, that’s show business!)
It does bear repeating: where would we have been without Elvis?  The King of Rock & Roll may well have ended up being Pat Boone.  Instead of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones the songs of The Letterman and The Association may have dominated the music industry of the 1960s.  Rebellion may have been confined to the coffee houses where beatniks engaged in pseudo-intellectual banter.  Concert halls may have been filled with droves of fans coming out to see The Osmond’ Family.  And like the good guy in the white hat, Elvis Presley is a true American phenomenon.  Only in America would we ordinate a trucker from Memphis the exalted status of kingship because only in America is it still possible to achieve nobility through deeds rather than through birth. 
Bubba Ho-tep is directed by Don Coscarelli and is only 92 minutes long.  Therefore, it’s much less of a time-waster than watching movies like Gandhi, Amadeus, or Atonement that all for some reason or other get nominated for Academy Awards by giving us a lot of filler.  We can’t really poke fun at these movies because these same films are too cautious and full of themselves to contain any raucous humor. Bubba Ho-tep at least is an entertaining movie.  And it’s refreshing to see a movie that has a true sense of fun.
October 21, 2008
© Robert S. Miller 2008

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