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Film / 3000 Miles to Graceland

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No, cash is king.

3000 Miles to Graceland is a 2001 crime/action film directed and co-written by Demian Lichtenstein, starring Kurt Russell, Kevin Costner, and Courteney Cox.

Michael Zane (Russell) and four other criminals — Thomas J. Murphy (Costner), Hanson (Christian Slater), Gus (David Arquette), and Franklin (Bokeem Woodbine) — execute a heist in which they steal $3.2 million from the Riviera Casino in Las Vegas by dressing up as Elvis Impersonators whilst the casino hosts International Elvis Week, thereby making it difficult to identify them since hundreds of people in the building would be dressed in the same manner. The heist is successful, but when Franklin is killed, a dispute occurs over how his share should be divided among the survivors. It isn't long before it's just Michael and Murphy; with the latter pursuing the former across the western United States as he flees both with the money and with a woman named Cybil Waingrow (Cox), with whom he has fallen in love, and her son Jesse (David A. Kaye).

The film also stars Kevin Pollak as Damitry, Thomas Haden Church as Quigley and Howie Long as Jack.

Prior to the film's opening, Warner Bros. released a series of animated prequels voiced by stars Costner, Slater, Woodbine and Long. The Road to Graceland prequels marked the first time a major film's cast members contributed their talents to the creation of original Internet content for a film website.

This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: At one point, Jesse kicks Michael right in the shin. Kurt Russell did so to Elvis Presley himself in the 1963 film It Happened at the World's Fair.
  • All There in the Manual: The Road to Graceland prequels offer the strongest evidence (outside Michael's statements about the Graceland yacht being given to him by "his father" during the third act of the film) that he is the heir of Elvis.
  • And Starring: The opening cast roll ends with "and David Kaye".
  • Anti-Villain: Despite being a thief, Michael is more humane than the others. He doesn't take lives during the casino shootout, opting to knock guards out or back them away with suppressive fire.
  • Black Dude Dies First: Franklin, the African-American member of Murphy's gang, gets killed just as they are about to make their getaway with the money. Even Roger Ebert couldn't hide his disdain for the movie invoking it in his review.
  • Bling-Bling-BANG!: Murphy's "golden rule" is "Fuck the gold. He who has the nickel plating [on his gun] makes the rules."
  • Bulletproof Vest: How Michael survives Murphy's shots. Twice.
  • Cain and Abel: Michael and Murphy are actually half-brothers, with Elvis as their common father. While both are professional robbers, Murphy is a stone-cold psychopath while Michael is a lot more restrained.
  • Casting Gag: Michael Zane disguises himself as Elvis during his heist at the Riviera Casino. His actor Kurt Russell had not only played Elvis twice prior (in a TV biopic directed by John Carpenter and an uncredited voice cameo in Forrest Gump) but also kicked the King himself as a child actor in Elvis's film It Happened at the World's Fair.
  • Casual Danger Dialogue: During the shootout in the Riviera, the action cuts back to a news host grabbing her (fallen!) cameraman's equipment and reporting from the scene herself, and an older woman playing a slot machine and getting frustrated. This occurs as the thieves are gunning down security guards left and right in close proximity.
  • The Cavalry: Jack (the helicopter pilot) shows up to rescue the gang as they're besieged on top of the Riviera casino.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The seemingly-irrelevant scene of the two scorpions fighting during the opening credits (one of which is crushed by Michael's car) comes back into play in the final confrontation between Michael and Murphy, when the former places the surviving scorpion (which was picked up by Jesse at the end of the opening scene) inside a bag seemingly filled with money, and uses it to trick the latter.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Particularly jarring from Kevin Costner.
  • Contrived Coincidence:
    • Shortly after gunning down the crew, Murphy is distracted while driving back to the Last Chance motel and runs into a coyote, crashing his vehicle and being knocked out in the process. This gives Michael (who survived the execution thanks to his Bulletproof Vest) to wake up, get back to the hotel and retrieve the money (along with Cybil and her son) before escaping.
    • The ending leans heavily into this. The (apparently-wounded) Michael is loaded into an ambulance, with the paramedic attending him rushing out of the vehicle and asking for a driver who can help get him to a hospital while she works on him. In the chaos after Murphy's Last Stand, Cybil and Jesse use the opportunity to commandeer the ambulance and drive away, while the authorities unequivocally tell local news outlets that all of the heist participants are now dead, bringing the case to a close (and outright stating that the money is likely lost for good).
  • Cover Version: Lily Costner and The Vibe Experience's rendition of Carlene Carter's "Every Little Thing" is played when Cybil steals Michael's wallet and takes his car so she can meet Peterson, the money launderer.
  • Creative Closing Credits: The film ends with a "music video", in the form of Kurt Russell (in character as Michael Zane) lipsynching his way through Elvis' "Such a Night" while the rest of the characters mug for the camera and various clips from the film are shown. It then ends with Leave the Camera Running as Russell begins laughing at the end of one of the takes, before cutting into an outtake where Kevin Costner ad-libs the line, "You're going back, Mike. Back... to the future, man!" before the cast and crew break out laughing.
  • Damsel in Distress: Cybil is briefly kidnapped by Murphy and left in the trunk of his car for several hours, with Michael only discovering her once he makes bail in Idaho and re-acquires his original car (which Murphy had stolen from him).
  • Dead Star Walking: Considering their prominence at the time the film was made, the characters played by Slater (Hanson) and Arquette (Gus) both die by the 40-minute mark of the movie.
  • Death Faked for You: Michael is listed as dead along with the other robbers by the end of the film (and the money is presumed lost), via the Seattle authorities, and is able to escape with Cybil and Jesse with twice the cash (from the casino and Peterson's stash) without any further police interest.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Michael ultimately escapes with Cybil and Jesse, as a mixup involving the driver of an ambulance allows Cybil to drive away with the (apparently fatally-wounded) Michael while Seattle authorities state that every member of the group, including Murphy, who was shot down after his Last Stand (and after nearly killing Michael himself) are dead. Michael and Cybil ultimately leave on the former's boat, Graceland, with no one the wiser.
  • Easily-Overheard Conversation: Upon returning to the Last Chance hotel, Murphy and the surviving robbers discuss how to divide up Franklin's share from the Riviera robbery. Jesse, who has been hiding out in the hotel's restroom, overhears this conversation.
  • Elvis Impersonator: The robbers dress up as Elvis impersonators to avoid getting caught. Unfortunately for them, they get noticed by the local police and Franklin is killed.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Murphy may be a self-absorbed criminal, but he doesn't react well to his friend Jack being fatally shot during the finale.
  • Good Colors, Evil Colors: All the robbers wear a differently colored Elvis outfit; note, however, that Zane wears a white suit and Murphy a black one. No points for guessing which one has a kernel of good inside him.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: The murder of Gus and (initially, to the audience's view) Michael occurs at a construction site, as the characters walk behind a building, with the sound of four gunshots being fired (two per character). The end result is glimpsed later, when the Federal Marshals come upon the crime scene and see Gus' body half-lying in a shallow pool of water, having been shot twice in the chest.
  • Guns Akimbo: Both Murphy (wielding dual revolvers) and Hamilton (wielding dual assault rifles) utilize this during the final gunfight in the warehouse.
  • Harmful to Minors: While in the hotel's restroom, Jesse secretly witnesses Murphy fatally shoot Hanson after they discuss how to divide up Franklin's shares.
  • Heel Realization: Murphy’s shooting of his own reflection before he goes out to his demise implies this, along with his line "You recognize me now? I recognize you."
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: While Michael might be a thug who thinks nothing of robbing a casino with a gang of other thieves, he's far more willing to avoid unnecessary bloodshed if possible, opting to impede his attackers instead of outright killing them (either by knocking them out or shooting glass above them to stop their pursuit). He also eventually relents with Cybil and her son after realizing they're in danger due to Murphy's pursuit. This is in contrast to the rest of the gang, who think nothing of fatally wounding anyone who gets in their way, particularly Murphy.
  • Historical Character's Fictional Relative: Both the hero and the bad guy are implied to be half-brothers fathered by none other than Elvis Presley. The villain, in particular, is obsessed with the King's legacy. Both the prequel clips and the film itself suggest that Michael is the "true heir" to the Presley legacy, as his father, who he never met, gifted him a boat called the Graceland.
  • Hypocrite: Murphy chews out Hanson for dividing up Franklin's share of the spoil four ways, accusing him of secretly wanting all the money for himself... which is exactly what he was planning to do, as he promptly murders Hanson and Gus and tries to do the same to Michael.
  • Informed Ability: Ice-T's character Hamilton shows up at the climax of the movie, introduced as some sort of badass mercenary/assassin. During the final shootout, he jumps in by spinning down from the ceiling upside down with dual P90's. This looks cool and manages to kill a few of the attacking federal agents, but it ends up getting him killed for his trouble. Beyond his initial meeting, this is just about all he does in the movie.
  • Instant Seduction: In the opening scene, Michael meets Cybil, and after a few minutes of talking and a cup of coffee, they resort to having raunchy sex in her bedroom. Lampshaded by Cybil just beforehand, where she tells Michael it will take more than "a cup of coffee and a plate of chow" to bed her.
  • Ironic Echo: When Murphy talks about the golden rule, Hanson asks "What's that, sweetheart?" before he says "Fuck the gold." Seconds later, Murphy guns down Hanson while saying "Sweetheart."
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Immediately after trying to kill his compatriots, Murphy hits a stray wolf on the road and careens off-road, knocking him out. This gives time for Michael to get back to the money and take it.
  • Last Disrespects:
    • Rather than bury Franklin's body after he's fatally shot during the escape from the casino, the crew pushes his body off the helicopter mid-flight.
    • A short while later, on the way to bury Hanson, Gus jokes the corpse they're carrying ate one too many "peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches", a crack at Elvis' own diet in the years leading up to his death.
  • Last Stand: Murphy does this against a fleet of cops, and goes down guns blazing, at the end of the final gunfight in the warehouse.
  • Male Gaze: The film frequently focuses on women dressed in tight clothing as they walk past the camera. There's a shot focusing on Cybil's rear when she gets up on a step ladder to collect Michael's wallet from the crawlspace in her ceiling. Later on, when Michael, Cybil and Jesse eat at a diner, Michael ogles a waitress who leans over him to take his order, leading Cybil to rail at him for his behavior.
  • Monumental Damage: Murphy takes the opportunity to shoot at and destroy the rooftop sign at the Riviera casino as the gang flees on the helicopter. Later on, he destroys an entire gas station with a running gas line and a cigarette, which shoots an actual aircraft several yards in the air and causes enough of a smoke trail to be visible from several miles away, as Michael spots from his hotel room.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: Murphy gets blasted by a half dozen Federal agents in his Last Stand.
  • Mythology Gag: The manner in which Murphy dies at the end of the final gunfight (laying against the wall in the bathroom of the warehouse) evokes the same manner in which the real Elvis was found after he died.
  • No Honor Among Thieves: What basically sets the film's story in motion. It says something about how cutthroat they are when the main villain isn't the most dishonorable among the group (Hanson tries to take part of Franklin's share), although he shoots Gus (fatally) and Michael (non-fatally), anyway.
  • Not Staying for Breakfast: During their second romantic encounter, Michael leaves Cybil while she's still sleeping, opting to leave a chocolate bar on a pillow in his stead.
  • Oral Fixation: Quigley, one of the federal marshals, is frequently seen chewing on a toothpick.
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: Murphy says "Sweetheart" seconds before killing Hanson in the hotel room.
  • Primal Scene: Jesse goes into the bedroom as his mom is noisily having sex with Michael, going on to his business without concern, indicating it isn't the first time he's seen this.
  • Really Gets Around: Megan, who is implied to have been passed around by men before she met Murphy, and later leaves him to ride with the leader of a biker gang.
    Murphy: Do you smoke?
    Megan: No... but I do everything else.
  • Rule of Cool: The film certainly tries to go for this, with hyperactive cutting and an attempt at Rated M for Manly.
  • Scary Scorpions: The film opens with a CGI-animated pair of metallic-looking scorpions with large teeth battling each other to the death. Another one of these shows up later to sting Murphy.
  • Serious Business: Murphy's infatuation with Elvis runs so deep that his partners believe Murphy actually thinks he's Elvis.
  • Smoking Is Cool:
    • Damitry and Quigley, the Federal Marshals trying to catch the casino robbers, always light cigarettes after they walk out of a building. Except Damitry is always having to fuss with his lighter before it lights. Finally, towards the end of the movie, Quigley lights his cigarette for him:
      Federal Marshal Quigley: Either quit smoking or get a new lighter.
    • It goes the other way, too, with Murphy's defining character traits being (as Roger Ebert put it) that he "chain-smokes and looks mean."
  • The Sociopath: Murphy, in spades. Aside from his Hair-Trigger Temper and Team Killer attitude, he executes a shopkeeper who put up the mildest resistance to him, shot a money launderer and stabbed his secretary in cold blood, and has no problem gunning down plenty of security guards in the Riviera (as opposed to Michael, who shoots merely to stall or incapacitate the pursuing authorities).
  • Sole Survivor: By the end of the film, Michael is the only robber to escape the casino heist alive.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The casino shootout that results from security trying to stop the robbers' exit is set to and intercut with an Elvis impersonator performance.
  • Suicidal Overconfidence:
    • Both the cops rushing the thieves at the Riviera (as well as a news reporter who picks up her fallen cameraman's equipment and starts filming herself) seemingly have no problem getting within a few feet of the attackers, who are unloading on everyone in the vicinity with automatic weapons and shotguns. A single plainclothes cop, in particular, manages to rush the elevator the gang is fleeing in, sticks his arm through the door and unloads his weapon into Franklin, which leads him to be stuck and at Murphy's mercy, who delivers a Boom, Headshot!.
    • Hamilton, who is said to be worth "two guys" in terms of combat prowess, functionally does this by hanging upside-down on a zipline and unloading automatic weapons in a semi-circle, which takes out several cops... but also ends with him almost immediately getting riddled with bullets.
  • Taking the Bullet: In the warehouse shootout, Jack takes Quigley's sniper shots that were meant for Murphy, but at the cost of his life.
  • Team Killer: Murphy executes his crew (save for Michael, who was wearing a bulletproof vest) in a bid to seize the money for himself.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: Michael is forced to get help from Jesse (the loudmouth kid who, up to this point, was trolling him by repeatedly stealing objects from him) in order to make bail after he gets arrested in Idaho. Afterwards, Michael reluctantly agrees to make Jesse his "partner".
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: During the Last Stand, a dozen or so heavily-armed policemen pump numerous rounds into Murphy, who's cornered in an upstairs office in the sawmill.
  • Those Two Guys: The two FBI agents pursuing the robbers, played by Thomas Haden Church and Kevin Pollak, are competent investigators who spend most of their time bantering. If you watched just their scenes of the film, you'd swear it was a pilot for a buddy cop show starring them.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: The Elvis impersonator and his troupe playing on the main stage at the Riviera Casino seem to be completely oblivious to the sounds of gunfire and screaming right outside the hall where they're playing, and continue to sing as cops are shot on the casino floor by Murphy and the gang.
  • Villain Protagonist: The main characters are not heroes; they are robbers.
  • Villainous Friendship: Murphy and the helicopter pilot, Jack, have a surprisingly sincere one. Murphy is pretty defensive of his importance to the crew early on, while Jack remains loyal to Murphy throughout the whole movie and ends up taking a bullet for him. Moreover, Murphy clearly regrets seeing his friend going down.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Michael threatens to beat up Jesse while confronting him regarding the money's whereabouts when he makes it back to the Last Chance after surviving the attempted assassination by Murphy.
    • Towards the end of the film, Murphy has no qualms about taking Jesse hostage, to the extent that he openly comments that they will shoot the latter once the money is in hand. This eventually proves to be a bluff, as although Murphy considers shooting Jesse while the latter is hiding (during his Last Stand), he ultimately lets the latter make a break for it, covering him as he flees the sawmill.
  • Zerg Rush: The security guards at the Riviera apparently have no qualms about rushing towards the attacking robbers during the first act, leading to nearly all of them getting mowed down by Murphy due to their recklessness.