History repeats itself a lot more quickly these days, and "3000 Miles to Graceland" is a case in point. While watching this 'heist-gone-awry' flick, I couldn't help but have a sense of déja vu, because it was one year ago, on the last weekend of February 2000 to be exact, that "Reindeer Games" bowed into theaters. Like that Ben Affleck vehicle, the action in "3000 Miles to Graceland" revolves around a casino heist perpetrated by thieves in disguise (Santa Claus costumes in "Reindeer Games", and Elvis outfits in the latter), which not only goes horribly wrong, but has the protagonist finding himself betrayed by those closest to him. Not surprisingly, like its predecessor, "3000 Miles to Graceland" ends up being a mediocre effort with little to offer the audience, other than a production that is as overblown and ostentatious as its Las Vegas setting.
A cross between "Reservoir Dogs", classic rat-packer "Ocean's 11" (which is itself being remade by "Traffic" director Steven Soderbergh), and "Honeymoon in Vegas", "3000 Miles in Graceland" introduces us to two recently-paroled criminals, the ladies' man Michael (Kurt Russell of "Breakdown") and the pugnacious Murphy (Kevin Costner of "Thirteen Days"). With the help of David Arquette ("Scream 3"), Christian Slater ("Hard Rain"), Bokeem Woodbine ("The Big Hit"), and Howie Long ("Broken Arrow"), they plan to hit a Vegas casino during an Elvis impersonator convention. Appropriately enough, they come dressed for the occasion, decked out in spandex jumpsuits, big hair, and mean-looking sideburns.
Of course, the caper doesn't go exactly as planned, and their getaway is marred by a blood-soaked "Matrix"-inspired gun battle in the casino. And even though they do manage to elude the police, several double-crosses, a cross-country chase, and then another blood-soaked gun battle ensure that the story is far from over.
"3000 Miles to Graceland" is the second feature film from director Demian Lichtenstein, who cut his teeth directing music videos. True to his background, Lichtenstein spends an inordinate amount of time creating eye candy for the audience, creating a mise-en-scene as flamboyant as the neon-drenched Vegas Strip. Sped-up footage turns sunsets, skyscapes, and highway traffic into blurs, while jump-cuts and strobe effects will make you think you accidentally walked in on a repertory screening of last year's "Get Carter". The gun battles are shot in the now-standard John-Woo-co-opted-by-Jerry-Bruckheimer style, with the casino shoot-out having the added bonus of being juxtaposed against an Elvis stage show offering plenty of scantily-clad showgirls to ogle (as if brutal violence wasn't enough to titillate the audience). However, these visual flourishes are seem commonplace when compared to the film's inexplicable title sequence (so inexplicable you will wonder if you're watching the right movie), which has some poorly-done computer animation of two scorpions fighting before they are run over by Kurt Russell's car (also in poorly-done CGI).
Unfortunately, with so much effort expended on trying to make the film look 'cool', it seems there wasn't enough time left over to work on the script. Everything that happens in the film has an arbitrary feel to it, as though Lichtenstein and his co-scribe Richard Recco were trying to fill up the two hours between the two showcase gun battles. How else would you explain pointless scenes such as an over-the-top roadside showdown between Murphy and a state trooper, or how the motivations of the characters seem to bend with the wind when it suits the story? Without any sort of discernible emotion or character development, this caper flick seems more suited for one of those direct-to-video exploitation flicks that usually star Dolph Lungren or Don 'The Dragon' Wilson.
Given such weak material, it is quite remarkable how Lichtenstein was able to load up his film with so many big names. Courtney Cox (of TV's "Friends") certainly offers up plenty of spunk playing the love interest for Kurt Russell, though her character does a number of things that don't quite make sense, such as a scene where she leaves her son (David Kaye of "Legends of the Fall") behind and steals Michael's car, even though she is supposed to care very deeply for both of them. Kevin Pollak (seen recently in "The Wedding Planner") and Thomas Haden Church ("George of the Jungle") show up as a couple of Federal Marshals, though they don't have very much to do, even when they do catch up with Michael and Murphy. Finally, Jon Lovitz ("Happiness") has a brief turn as a timid money launderer, while rapper-turned-actor Ice-T ("Law & Order: SVU") shows up in the last ten minutes to utter ten words as a hired gun.
With the premise of Elvis impersonators robbing a casino, "3000 Miles to Graceland" might have worked better as a comedy... but then again, maybe not, judging from the other recent 'heist-gone-awry' flick "Sugar & Spice", where dopey cheerleaders try to hit a bank. I'm sure "3000 Miles to Graceland" will appeal to some people, either because of the Elvis angle, the ultra-violent gun battles, or the big name stars, but after about the first twenty minutes, they will probably all come to same realization: there's no substitute for good writing, and what happens in "3000 Miles to Graceland" is certainly no substitute for good writing.