Mucho mojo

If Elvis and JFK were alive, what would they want to say to their families? What would they regret about their lives? Could they drop the hammer on the soul-sucking mummy haunting their decrepit nursing home?

Bubba Ho-Tep, which we rented tonight from our favorite local movie store, takes on all these questions. (And, how are Elvis and JFK alive, anyway, and why are they in nowhere, Texas? Any why is JFK black?) While it has a few creepy moments and a couple of brief bits of action, Bubba Ho-Tep isn’t gripping as a monster movie. But what’s really fun and frequently oddly touching about it is the way it presents Elvis (played channeled by Bruce Campbell) and JFK (Ossie Davis) as old men who know their time is just about up.

Seriously now, don’t let the proximity of “Bruce Campbell” and “oddly touching” throw you off. The movie is smart enough to play these two completely straight. There’s no wink and nod that “Elvis” and “JFK” are just senile old men, and there’s just barely a hint of the if-chins-could-kill of many of Campbell’s roles. Elvis has a bad hip, fears he has cancer, and is treated like an infant by the staff. JFK has a sharp suit and a genuine red phone, but sees infirmity coming. Both of them are lonely and thinking of the things they might have done differently throughout their lives. When the mummy shows up they see their last chance at dignity.

The film is a lot of fun to watch: Although Elvis and JFK take themselves seriously, there is plenty of humor. Watching Elvis threaten to put his moves on the mummy (awkward kung fu posturing and all) is a kick. And, in the moments where Elvis and JFK reflect on what went wrong and how they wish they could have been better parents, well, you really believe in their regret. As Campbell says in the “making of” bit, it’s just about the best Elvis-mummy-redemption flick around.

Extras: I’m not much for buying DVDs (though as a Blue Blazer Regular I do have my copy of The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the 8th Dimension), but the commentary track with The King on this one might make it worth the price. Campbell watches the movie as Elvis. He talks about indigestion, noisily eats candy bars, and reminisces about his old movies. (“Never had any naked ladies in those old movies. Pretty psychadelic, though, I tell you. Here, watch this; this is where it starts to get really spooky.”)

Also, this is the first Bruce Campbell movie that Heather has managed to stay awake for. There may be hope for her yet.