3000 Miles to Graceland (2001)
Directed by Demian Lichtenstein
Cast: Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, Courteney Cox, David Kaye, Christian Slater, David Arquette, Bokeem Woodbine, Kevin Pollak, Howie Long, Ice T, Thomas Haden Church, Jon Lovitz.
2001 125 minutes
Rated: (for graphic violence, profanity, and sex).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 24, 2001.
Had "3000 Miles to Graceland" captured the lightweight, happy-go-lucky tone of its superior theatrical trailer, it might have been something special. Trashy and silly, yes, but more satisfying than what we have been served: a violent, gruesome, almost unrelentingly mean-spirited ride through a Tarantino-esque landscape of color characters, witty writing, double-crosses, and more than a little bloodshed. It pales in comparison to the best of the genre, however, as it contains about three plot twists too many, about twenty minutes of excessive material that would have been better left cut out, and such unremittingly grim and violent sequences that it ends up leaving a bitter aftertaste in your mouth.
The movie opens as five ex-convicts set out to rob a Las Vegas casino holding an Elvis Presley convention. Dressed as Presley himself so as to blend in, they manage to escape with $2.3 in cold, hard cash, but not before a bloody massacre that leave many, many police officers, as well as civilians, dead. Back at their hideout in a seedy desert motel, it becomes clear that arrogant, chain-smoking badguy Murphy (Kevin Costner) plans to walk away with everyone else's loot. With three of them killed, the other remaining partner, Michael (Kurt Russell), manages to steal the money and sets off for a money launderer, with Murphy in hot pursuit. Tagging along for the ride with Michael is Cybil Waingrow (Courteney Cox), who has already managed to bed him twice in the last 24 hours, and her precocious, thieving son, Jesse (David Kaye).
In Quentin Tarantino's own "Pulp Fiction" or "Jackie Brown," which are clearly two of the prime models for "3000 Miles to Graceland," there were characters who were flawed, but easy to root for. In other words, they didn't always do the right things, but were believable and, most of all, human. Here, some of the people filling up the screen are supposed to be the heroes, but none are particularly that likable, and even the nicest one (played well by Courteney Cox) does things throughout that are rather despicable. At one point, she even takes off with the money herself, leaving her own son behind with Michael, who is the only other "good" character to be found. While she reasons out this plot point later on, and does manage to become sympathetic again by the final act, it still does not take away how inexcusable her behavior has been.
For its two-plus hours, "3000 Miles to Graceland" is pretty entertaining stuff. Fairly well-written and directed with a sure hand by Demian Lichtenstein (in his feature-film debut), the movie often used quick-cuts and interesting camera angles without its high style ever becoming glaring or pretentious. The storyline is overly familiar, but fun to watch, for the most part, although it does tend to become repetitive and ends up overstaying its welcome.
What does drag the film down, though, is the unnecessary violence that pops up every few minutes. From the early shoot-out at the casino, to the gory climactic battle, the movie is needlessly, almost unrelentingly brutal, in its depiction of death and destruction. This especially doesn't gel since much of the picture wants to be a zany road comedy, and the rest wants to be a heartfelt romance. Every time Murphy shoots up a few more innocent people, the whole enterprise screeches to a somber halt, leaving you unsure of how you are supposed to be feeling when the comedy appears immediately afterwards.
Even if Murphy's nonstop evil personality doesn't always fit, Kevin Costner (2000's "13 Days") injects much life into him. Releasing off an air of head-sure, macho badness, Costner has never played a character quite like this one, and he seems to relish the chance. Likewise, Kurt Russell (1998's "Soldier") is very good, adding some depth to a part that probably wasn't as apparent on the written page. His budding relationship with Cybil works solely because he and Cox have a great amount of chemistry onscreen, and work well together. Aside from this, it plays like more of a plotting device than a natural romance between two dysfunctional people. It turns out that Courteney Cox (2000's "Scream 3") is the best of all, delivering a snappy, energetic portrayal of a beautiful single mother who longs for a little danger (and maybe a man and some extra cash) in her life.
The supporting cast includes Christian Slater (2000's "The Contender"), David Arquette (2000's "Ready to Rumble"), and Bokeem Woodbine (1998's "Caught Up"), as the three ill-fated men who help to rob the casino with Michael and Murphy; Kevin Pollak, Ice T, and Thomas Haden Church as Federal Marshals out to capture them and get the stolen money back; and Howie Long (1998's "Firestorm") as a further accomplice to the crime that sets everything into motion. All do fine jobs with what they are given, which, admittedly, isn't very much.
Despite all of its strong points (including an exciting car chase that is better than anything in 2000's "Gone in Sixty Seconds"), "2000 Miles to Graceland" remains an uneasy, uncomfortable balance between a comedic romp and something remarkably darker. Ultimately, screenwriters Richard Recco and Demian Lichtenstein are never quite able to find that missing link that might have bridged the gap between the major flaws in its storytelling and tone, and the exuberant energy that so achingly tries to break free, but never quite does.
©2001 by Dustin Putman