Wednesday, June 16, 2004

A couple movie reviews to throw your way --
‘Bubba Ho-tep’
Some movies become cult movies over time. And others are born to be cult movies.
“Bubba Ho-tep” was a cult movie from the day filming began. How else would you categorize a horror comedy with a serious subtext about aging that stars Elvis Presley, a black John F. Kennedy and a mummy?
But what’s odd is that despite the weirdness, or perhaps because of it, “Bubba” is actually kind of a great movie.
Bruce Campbell, best known for starring in the “Evil Dead” series, plays a sixty-something Elvis Presley living in a Texas nursing home, suffering from old age and a general malaise. He faked his death years ago, but now is consumed by bitterness and regret.
Despite the elaborate makeover Campbell gets for the film, his performance transcends the latex. He gives Elvis a crotchety, fighting spirit.
Elvis soon hooks up with an elderly African-American rest home resident who’s convinced that he’s President John F. Kennedy (“They dyed me!,” JFK, played by the great Ossie Davis, tells the King). The dynamic duo become involved in investigating some strange deaths at the rest home, and the case leads them to a thousands-of-years-old curse. Can the King and Kennedy beat back an ancient evil?
Oh, and to top it all off, Elvis has rather gruesome and debilitating problems with his, um, “little King,” if you will.
As you can guess, “Bubba Ho-tep” isn’t for everyone. Directed by Don Coscarelli, the man behind kooky flicks like “The Beastmaster” and the “Phantasm” series, it’s a weird, foulmouthed hybrid of low-budget horror and psychological drama. Elvis pretty much spends the first half-hour lying in his bed complaining. It’s got a slow pace — and unlike most horror flicks, its “stars” are both decrepit senior citizens. No screaming teens in sight.
But “Bubba” is also a strangely funny and touching oddball experience, filled with the kind of witty one-liners movie geeks quote to each other at parties. How can you not love a movie with a line like, “I think you know what I’m gettin’ at Mr. President. We’re gonna kill us a mummy”?
What’s surprising, and resonant, about “Bubba” is how sincere it is. It doesn’t make fun of Elvis nearly as much as you’d think. It’s a cult flick to be sure, but it’s a cult I don’t mind belonging to. It’s a guarantee you won’t see anything quite like this movie this year.
(Rated R for language, sexual content, walking dead)
***1/2 of four

Or, Ben Affleck’s losing streak continues. The limp sci-fi thriller “Paycheck” combines aspects of “Minority Report” and “Total Recall” — without actually being as good as either of those movies.
Affleck is Jennings, a computer whiz who works for big companies on top-secret jobs, getting his memory selectively “erased” afterward so he can’t leak secrets, and taking home nice paychecks for his work. When an old friend who owns a Microsoft-like software company (Aaron Eckhart) offers him a huge job, one that would require him to erase three years of his memory, Jennings takes it, with reservations.
Yet when the job ends, Jennings finds he’s been betrayed and becomes a hunted man, part of a dangerous cat-and-mouse game manipulated by forces he doesn’t understand.
Because this is directed by movie mayhem maestro John Woo, all this memory mystery boils down to is a bunch of unexciting explosions and action sequences in the end.
“Paycheck” has a taut, exciting beginning, and behind all the nonsense are intriguing ideas about memory, time travel and fate. But the movie jumps the shark hard about halfway through, turning into a substandard, bloated action movie. It’s filled with plot holes you can drive a truck through.
What happened to John Woo? This film lacks the spark of his hugely influential Hong Kong flicks like “The Killer” or “Hard Boiled” or even his American work like “Face/Off.” It’s nearly a parody at some moments. Memo to Woo: Next time, lay off the shots of two men each holding guns in a standoff, and please, no doves!
Affleck is, well, Affleck. He’s at his best playing a “regular Joe” but here he’s a poor man’s Bruce Willis. Uma Thurman, so great in “Kill Bill,” is wasted in a forgettable girlfriend’s role.
Sorry, Ben. Maybe you can erase the memory of this movie from your resume.
(Rated PG-13 for action violence, language)
*1/2 of four

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