Old Elvis and JFK take on the mummy

October 24, 2003|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Some movies score extra points for their plots alone. Bubba Ho-tep is one of them.

Here goes: In an East Texas nursing home, Elvis (an uncanny Bruce Campbell, in as textured a performance as he's ever given) and JFK (Ossie Davis) are living out their final days. Presley, it seems, seeking a little peace and quiet, switched places with an Elvis impersonator, and it was that guy who keeled over in a Graceland bathroom, while JFK survived Dallas, only to be ousted by a cabal led by LBJ (for good measure, they had him dyed black).

Life has been placid enough, as Elvis fights a bad hip and some nasty infections and JFK gets around a little slower than he'd like. But then huge, ugly scarab beetles start showing up, people start dying on a rapid basis (even for a nursing home), and hieroglyphic graffiti ("Cleopatra does the dirty") shows up on the men's room stalls.

Don't you just hate it when that happens? Especially when the culprit turns out to be a 5,000-year-old cursed Egyptian mummy who lives (if that's the word for it) by sucking people's souls out of their bodies.

Can The King and the Leader of Camelot save the souls of their fellow residents? And anyway, how does one get rid of a millennia-old mummy?

Writer-director Don Coscarelli (Phantasm) could have played all this for major farce, but he holds back just enough to keep the mood light, not spastic. The dialogue is sprinkled with (often tasteless) pop-culture references - Elvis refers to bugs the size of peanut butter and banana sandwiches, while JFK has pictures of Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby on his wall.

But best of all, the characters rarely seem to be winking at their audience; nothing can seem more interminable than a spoof played like one big in-joke. Bubba Ho-tep is closer to camp than high drama, but it's not like watching an episode of the old Batman TV series, where the viewer is constantly reminded of how silly the whole thing is. Coscarelli has enough faith in his audience to let viewers figure that out all by themselves, and it's a better movie because of it.

That, and the sight of a geriatric Elvis telling a nurse what she can do with her rubber gloves.

Bubba Ho-tep

Starring Bruce Campbell, Ossie Davis

Directed by Don Coscarelli

Rated R (language, brief nudity)

Released by Silver Sphere Corp.

Time 92 minutes

Sun Score ***

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