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Living Dead Impersonator: Bruce Campbell plays a really old Elvis in Don Coscarelli's horror comedy 'Bubba Ho-tep.'

Crummy Mummy

Elvis vs. Mummy pic 'Bubba Ho-tep' could have used a little more action, a little less conversation

By Richard von Busack

ELVIS IS A NAME to conjure with, and the Mummy was always just about the most soulful of old-time monsters (after all, burnin' love was what got him into his unnatural state). Despite the rich lore available as source material for a tale of the King vs. the Pharaoh, Bubba Ho-tep is as big a disappointment as a post-King Creole Elvis movie. In the present, a decrepit, crippled Elvis is stuck at the Shady Rest retirement home in Mud Creek, Texas.

To the outside world, he's known as an Elvis impersonator named Sebastian Haff, who stumbled offstage, broke his hip and spent years in a coma. He (and we) know he's the one and only, if old and elderly, Elvis in exile, waiting for death to follow oblivion. When an Egyptian soul-sucking mummy (Bob Ivy) appears on the scene, only Elvis and his crony John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) can fend him off.

Working from a short story by Joe R. Lansdale, director/writer Don Coscarelli dissipates that magic unique to Elvis by making him a profane old clown. When we first see him, he's complaining about a growth on his penis. Coscarelli shows himself as someone about as sensitive as Albert Goldman, author of the hatchet biography that imagined Elvis frustrated with his own "ugly hillbilly pecker."

Even those who think of Elvis as a stale old cracker, have to admit there's something legendary about Kennedy, and that's why the joke of Davis playing JFK doesn't pay off. (The story is that he survived the hit and got dyed black by the government). Profanity doesn't roll off Davis' noble old tongue. Youth must be served, but watching Davis refer to his own dick as a "chocolate ding-dong" is more evidence of an interesting premise squandered.

Bruce Campbell's Elvis does all too much narrating. Since Elvis was a dedicated occultist, it seems as if he could have figured out he has a mummy problem faster than anyone else in the movie. Discussion and explanation slow down an already slow-moving film. Campbell, the long-jawed star of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead movies, really looks like an old-time Republic serial star, and he brings heft to the movie; he's too good an actor not to seek the depths Coscarelli doesn't care too much about. Ella Joyce gives the other worthwhile performance, playing an African American nurse with the diffidence of an English dame. In a movie this empty, her work echoes like dropped car keys in a quiet church.

Coscarelli created the Phantasm series, and once upon a time he was capable of shocks and effects that worked. (He is also responsible for a film that's been a punch line for a hundred jokes: The Beastmaster.) Times are so horrible that the idea of Elvis shrugging off death and triumphing over the decadence that killed him is irresistible. Sadly, Bubba Ho-tep is a perfect example of a million-dollar idea and a 50-cent script. The movie gets a laugh out of the notion of Elvis in a walker, but this movie moves as if it's on a walker itself.

Bubba Ho-tep (Unrated; 92 min.), directed and written by Don Coscarelli, based on the story by Joe R. Landsdale, photographed by Adam Janiero and starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis, opens Friday at Camera 7 in Campbell.

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From the October 9-15, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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