Reviews: Bubba Hotep

The touching story of Elvis fighting a cowboy mummy

No, seriously.

First off, a quote from Buffy The Vampire Slayer...

Angelus: Now that's everything, huh? No weapons. No friends. No hope. Take all that away, and what's left?
Buffy: Me.

That's the message this movie meditates on with a surprising amount of depth and seriousness. Elvis is such a kitsch figure, and Elvis fighting a cowboy mummy even more so, that it sounds like an audacious gag comedy — but as you watch the story unfold, it becomes clear that having Elvis as the hero isn't just a joke or an arbitrary choice. Elvis as played by Bruce Campbell is a man who literally had everything: youth, good looks, talent, virility, fame, fortune, women who wanted him and men who wanted to be him. And now every single one of those things has been stripped away. No money, his looks gone, his dancing talent stolen by a hip injury and his fame literally burnt to ashes, a weary old man who's invisible to women and whose body hardly even seems like his own anymore. Take all the things that made Elvis Presley "Elvis Presley" away, and what's left when Death, in the form of the mummy, comes calling?

Elvis's answer is "me".

It's not what you'd expect from a movie called Bubba Ho Tep, but there's a reason it's praised by critics as a powerful dramatic performance from Bruce Campbell ("a moving meditation on the diminutions of age and the vagaries of fame," as Rolling Stone puts it). The laughs are surprisingly sparse and subtle, and the story goes through great pains to make both Elvis's current situation and the cowboy mummy's backstory seem plausible. This makes Ossie Davis's more unlikely claim of being JFK (the CIA "dyed me black", he explains) all the funnier, though even it's left open to the viewer, and the story never devalues either man's convictions or the heroism he shows by standing up for them.

The movie doesn't pull any punches in showing the ravages of old age or the plight of nursing home residents, but it does so without reducing the rest home to a villainous bedlam. Think of it as a modern day Don Quixote, where the windmills really are giants and Don Quixote may or may not have once been a knight. It's the most moving film about Elvis and JFK fighting a cowboy mummy in a nursing home you'll ever see... and that really is saying something.