Kurt Russell. Kevin Costner. Courteney Cox. David Arquette. Christian Slater. Bokeem Woodbine. Howie Long. Kevin Pollak. Jon Lovitz. Thomas Haden Church. Paul Anka. Ice-T. Bet you never expected those last two, at least, to ever appear in the same film. Yet despite (or is that because of?) such a fascinatingly offbeat assembly of talent, Warner Bros. has appeared to just about sweep “3000 Miles to Graceland” under the proverbial rug, releasing the heist/road picture in an off-peak season and giving it hardly the big promotional push that usually comes with not one, but two name stars. But who can blame them when the film fails to amuse on a camp level?
However, it must be said that the film is not a complete bore. In fact, once the film’s first action sequence hits about 20 minutes in, it looks as if a mildly diverting action thriller is kicking in. Amid the hubbub of Elvis week in Vegas, Russell’s Michæl and Costner’s Murph and three others (played by Slater, Arquette, and Woodbine) stage a daring casino heist–all dressed up as the King, of course. What begins smoothly ends up culminating in a hail of bullets. Director/co-writer (with Richard Recco) Demian Lichtenstein, a music video vet in his first big assignment, obviously studied up on John Woo before staging this lengthy shootout, but there’s no arguing the fact that such blatant lifting gives this sequence a jolt.
Sadly, that jolt is short-lived. After some rather rushed-through doublecrosses, the cast is whittled down significantly (anyone familiar with movie conventions should figure out who gets offed first), and the pace slows accordingly as Michæl finds himself making a quick getaway. Weighing him down on his trip is not only a big bag full of cash, but also overeager single mom Cybil (Cox, mysteriously billed without the extra “Arquette”), with whom he’s had some wild romps in the sack; and her felon-in-waiting young son Jesse (David Kaye). Meanwhile, a not-so-happy Murph is following close behind, leaving a bloody trail in his wake.
Rumor has it that Costner and Russell put together two different cuts; in the end, Russell’s “character-oriented” edit was passed over in favor of Costner’s “action-oriented” version. If this is the faster-paced cut, I’d really hate to see the other one. Once the characters hit the road, the film slows to a snooze-worthy crawl, with very few engaging moments breaking up the tedium. These moments come exclusively in the Costner section, which is less an indication of his effectiveness here as a cold-blooded killer (he’s simply functional) than of how nothing of interest happens in the Russell thread. Composed mostly of soggy bonding between Michæl and Jesse, this side of the film is made memorable for all the wrong reasons by Lichtenstein’s labored efforts to make the audience care.
But no one works harder to make some “emotional” connection than Cox, who proves ill-equipped to handle material that can vaguely be considered dramatic. Her showcase Oscar clip is especially embarrassing; while she has no difficulty in generating post-nasal drip, she fails to squeeze out a single tear from her eyes. By comparison, a bored-looking Russell can only look good; and his ennui, in turn, makes Costner’s nominally more energized work look that much better.
Lichtenstein finally gets guns blazing again in the long-overdue finale, but by this point audiences will just be glad to be near the end. Without a particularly hissable villain nor a “hero” that holds any rooting interest, “3000 Miles to Graceland” doesn’t even get the basics of a standard action thriller right. Lichtenstein apparently thought quirks such as a head-scratcher of an opening title sequence (depicting two very CG scorpions engaged in fierce combat), a wacky Elvis-based quasi-explanation for Murph’s behavior, and the sight of Paul “Having My Baby” Anka firing a rifle would be enough to keep a viewer entertained. But like the film itself, these oddball touches sound a lot more interesting than they really are.