by David Cornelius
I kept wondering why “Elvis Has Left the Building,” director Joel Zwick’s follow-up to the sleeper smash “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” was going straight to video after sitting too long on the studio shelves (so long, in fact, that Zwick had time to make and release “Fat Albert”). Surely a wise studio marketing department could help create a modest hit, if not simply by riding the “Big Fat” reputation (and ignoring the “Fat Albert” one), then at least on the presence of Kim Basinger, or maybe even John Corbett. Then I saw the damn thing, and I realized that no, they couldn’t.“Elvis” is one continuous groaner of a comedy, a one-note eye-roller whose sharpest idea is to play “Burning Love” on the soundtrack when something accidentally catches on fire. Once that starts playing, get comfy: it’s going to be a long, hard slog from here.
"Oh, it's a hunka hunka something, alright..."
Basinger plays Harmony Jones, top seller of Pink Lady Cosmetics. It seems that Elvis himself once gave Harmony a ride in his pink Cadillac years ago, yet never asked for a favor in return. Now, Harmony believes, the King has come a-callin’ from beyond the grave; Harmony keeps accidentally causing the deaths of Elvis impersonators, and she’s sure that the Big E is working his magic through her.
Or something. It’s all just a flimsy excuse to see a bunch of “funny” Elvis impersonators meet “funny” demises, leading up to a convention in which many impersonators all appear together, which, I suppose, was intended to be “funny.” And this is where rookie screenwriters Mitchell Ganem and Adam-Michael Garber get it wrong. Taking their cue from “Honeymoon In Vegas,” this new film throws us oodles of Elvises (no, I will not call them “Elvii”), yet doesn’t seem to understand that the impersonators in “Honeymoon” were punctuation, not the sentence. “Honeymoon” did not depend on Elvis alone for its humor; “Elvis” uses the King like a crutch.
I’ll admit: Elvis impersonators are funny. Or, at least, they can be if played the right way. But lining up a series of actors whose cameos do not impress - the list includes David Leisure (didn’t he die years ago?) and Billy Ray Cyrus - is not enough. (Only the quickie appearance of Tom Hanks, whose head pops up for one brief shot, gets a laugh, mainly because it’s only one brief shot and therefore the only moment of restraint in the film.) We’re asked to titter at the big hair and the shiny suits and the big collars. We’re invited to chuckle at the strained scene in which undercover FBI agents Mike Starr and Phill Lewis are forced to do an Elvis act. We’re given the bizarre image of Denise Richards done up like Elvis, and, of course, expected to giggle.
We don’t, of course, because none of this is actually funny. It’s cute, perhaps, at least in small doses. But as the movie’s only punchline? Nah.
Worse, though, is the sad fact that this is a very sloppy film. I found it impossible to watch any scene with Sean Astin in it, merely for the fact that it’s obvious that a) his character has nothing to do with the story, other than helping to pad the running time and provide bounce-off dialogue for Corbett; and b) his scenes were shot in a day (maybe two) in a set far, far away from everything else. I started to place bets with myself over Astin’s character: Would he ever leave his office? Would we ever see him do anything other than talk on the phone with Corbett? Would he ever become useful to the story? The answers, for those wondering, are no, no, and no.
And what of the movie’s final sequence, the one that finds hundreds of Elvis impersonators squished together on the casino roof, arms stretched upward, chanting the name of their idol? I guess that Ganem and Garber really, really wanted their story to end with a scene like this, but couldn’t figure out a way how. The way in which the script half-asses its way to this scene is spectacular in its idiocy, a plot cheat that I refuse to believe was thought up by professional writers.
Then again, these are the same writers who give us semi-jokes like “you don’t have to yell; I’m gay, not deaf.” Whatever that means. “Elvis” plays like the rough draft of a script where the basic storyline’s been crafted, but placeholders standing where the jokes would eventually go, once somebody worked them out. Looks like nobody did.
To their credit, Basinger and Corbett bring enough of their own charisma to the project that the film, if not funny, is at least bearable. Their romance is light and inoffensive, and they make their way through the lame bits as capably as you’d expect from such fine actors.But come on. You need more than two likable stars to make your movie work, and without any memorable moments, and with too many forgettable yawners, you’ll end up driving your movie straight to the video shelves. Which is exactly what Zwick, Ganem, and Garer did. So much for riding the success of a smart, fun comedy.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12667&reviewer=392
originally posted: 08/03/05 05:21:01