Monday, June 22, 2009

Movie Entry #1: 3000 Miles to Graceland

Demian Lichtenstein and Richard Recco, the director/co-writer and co-writer of 3000 Miles to Graceland, must have brainstormed the script for their collaboration through the following exercise:

DL: "What should we put in our movie?"
RR: "I just watched Tango and Cash with Kurt Russell. He was awesome. [snorts gigantic line of cocaine] Let's make that movie, but, you know...different."
DL: "Hey, I just watched A Perfect World, that movie where Kevin Costner's a criminal and kidnaps the kid but is really nice to him and [snorts gigantic line of cocaine] makes him his partner. [wipes nose] Let's throw that in there."
RR: "Sounds good. Do you have a credit card I can borrow? I need to divy up more lines of cocaine in celebration of the brilliant cinematic genesis taking place on this glass card table."
DL: "[hands card] Elvis is cool, too. I know, let's make them Elvis impersonators. [snort]"
RR: "Only if we can add a precocious child to add some levity and make it family-friendly."
DL: "Can Ice-T be in it?"
RR: "Of course, Demian. Of course."

This movie is more boring than anything starring Kurt Russell's superhuman hairline has any excuse being. Courteney Cox is in it--seriously--and she double-crosses everyone, although always denies it, and the characters always believe her because, apparently, on their way to rob a Las Vegas casino during International Elvis Week, they escaped the Boise Home For the Mentally Disabled and/or Terminally Forgetful.

There are plot holes big enough to host a Southern Baptist prayer breakfast and more pseudo-Tarantinian attempts at postmodernism than Boondock Saints. Which is not to say that 3000 Miles to Graceland is a worse movie than Boondock Saints; quite the contrary. While Boondock is more akin to getting eating alive by sharks that sing John Mayer songs, 300 Miles is more like watching a friend get drunk off of a dozen cheap wine coolers: it might not be pleasant, and you might be a little embarrassed that you let it happen, but damned if it's not a fascinating experience.

PROS:

Ice-T spins while hanging upside down as he shoots automatic submachineguns at Thomas Haden Church and Kevin Pollak, creating a singular moment of anarchic action movie nirvana.

Christian Slater gets shot in the face for being too smarmy. Maybe the same bullet that killed his career (zing!).

Post-credits Kurt Russell lip-synchs to Elvis while Kevin Costner dances. Seriously.

CONS:

Weak attempts at philosophical "What makes a man good or evil?" posturing belong as bumper stickers on the back of some purple Subaru, not as heavy-handed motifs in a hyperviolent action heist movie.

Shoehorning a surrogate father/son dynamic subplot into a movie that is so gleefully feels ickily exploitative and terribly inappropriate.

Courteney Cox's name is spelled "Courteney," making its pronunciation three syllables long. Not really a part of the movie, but I saw it in the credits and it pissed me off.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

It's interesting to compare cinematic trends of the past to current ones. I was only nine when it came out, so it's difficult for me to remember the humongous, instantaneous impact that Pulp Fiction had on the cinematic consciousness; everything was trying to imitate that snarky banter and graphic debauchery, but always managed to leave out the soft, nougaty ethical center that made it so refreshing in the first place. And 3000 Miles didn't even come out in the 90s, either; its theatrical release in 2001 was preceded by its fellow subpar ancestors The Big Hit, Suicide Kings, Reindeer Games, etc., so its existence was almost a parody of an imitation of an amalgamation (which is what Tarantino's catalogue, even at its best, is strictly composed of).

I suppose an argument could be made that 3000 Miles is self-aware lampoon of the post-Tarantino landscape, with its fascinations with retro pop culture, bizarre soundtrack, attempts at colorful dialogue, exploding heads, etc. Its plot is certainly just as initially confusing as Reservoir Dogs or Jackie Brown, although those movies have twists and turns, while 3000 Miles pats itself on the back with confusing, contradictory revelations and build-ups to moments it wants you to gasp at, but more often result in "...wait, what?"s. However, there are at least two reasons that this argument has not been made: first, the movie is as stupid as a broken Roomba, and secondly, the whole thing is so played out that the movies that it could have been parodying are already, in their own way, parodies of themselves.

I wonder if, in ten years, someone ten years younger than me will look at a movie like Little Miss Sunshine or Garden State and view it under the shadow of Wes Anderson the way that 3000 Miles is clearly in the shadow of Tarantino. I'm particularly dreading this summer's wide release of 500 Days of Summer, featuring the unaware self-caricature Zooey Deschanel playing the peak of what can only be called The Zooey Deschanel Character: a saucy young minx who just wants to Live Life To The Fullest, Social Convention Be Damned! I've heard it described as a boring remake of Annie Hall made by people who think that Annie Hall is "boring," and this seems like the next step in a predictable, pervasive cycle. Take a movie like The Royal Tenenbaums and make it more appealing to the mainstream while leaving in superficial resemblences to its predecessors (quirky family! someone does drugs! someone's lifelong dream shattered! uh oh, family death!), and you have a cinema that spoonfeeds its audience so obviously that you can practically hear it making choo-choo noises as it tries to shove arbitrary plot developments down your throat.

So I wonder what will be Wes Anderson's 3000 Miles to Graceland. Maybe the movement already hit the apex with the mainstream success of supposed "indie" (let's have a moratorium on that word) movies like Juno or Nacho Libre. We'll have to wait for a movie that cannibalizes itself on a tertiary level by by eating the corpse of an already pale imitation. Wes Anderson's apparent stylistic ennui, as judged by his halfhearted attempts at horizon broadening with The Darjeeling Limited (casting new people doesn't mean you're stretching yourself, Wes), could be an ironically circular fall to an already tired movement, but it's still a fascinating one all the same.

As it stands, 3000 Miles to Graceland is not a great, good, or even passable movie. But it does have brief--incredibly brief--flashes of inspiration that manage to float their way to the top, making the experience, on the whole, about as forgettable as whatever TNT is showing on a Saturday afternoon. Which very well may be 3000 Miles to Graceland, come to think of it.

4 comments:

Shums said...

I haven't seen "3000 Miles to Graceland," nor will I, probably. But I will see "500 Days of Summer," because 1) it has Joseph Gordon-Levitt and 2) the trailer prominently shows Joseph Gordon-Levitt in an apparent song-and-dance number that includes him holding a cartoon bird on his finger as a symbol of his romantic bliss. SOLD.

Lanee said...

I saw 500 Days of Summer premier at Sundance and I actually really liked it. I wouldn't say it was chalk full of cinematic integrity and artfulness, but I thought it was clever, refreshingly clean, and all in all a feel good experience. I have no idea what this 3000 miles movie is all about but I found your post very entertaining.

Casey T. said...

I too found it entertaining.

and in response to courtEney: One spelling that pisses me off is Brittany. So when ever it's spelled that way i put the emphisis on the 'A'.

JULIE said...

I liked that lip-synch. I liked it a lot.