Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Title: 3000 Miles to Graceland (2001)
Studio Line: Warner Bros. - Crime Is King.

Elvis has left the building - with $3.2 in stolen jack! Participants in a Las Vegas "International Elvis Week" pull off a daring casino heist, then must confront their worst enemy - each other. An aggressive thrill ride and explosive mix of stars, style and story!

Director: Demian Lichtenstein
Cast: Kevin Costner, Kurt Russell, Christian Slater, Courteney Cox, Howie Long, Jon Lovitz, David Arquette, Ice-T, Bokeem Woodbine, Kevin Pollak
Box Office: Budget: $62 million. Opening Weekend: $7.16 million (2545 screens). Domestic Gross: $15.738 million.
DVD: Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9; audio English Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1; subtitles English, French; closed-captioned; single sided - dual layered; 35 chapters; rated R; 125 min.; $19.98; 8/7/01.
Supplements: Cast Filmographies; Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | Music soundtrack - Various Artists

Picture/Sound/Extras: A/A-/D-

Some prominent folks may need new agents. Lately I seem to be encountering a lot of movies that fall under the “waste of good talent” category, and I can now add 3000 Miles to Graceland to that list. A dud during its early 2001 theatrical run, the film squanders the skills of a variety of decent performers and comes across as just another crummy “high concept” action flick.

Any movie that starts with a computer animated fight between giant scorpions begins on rocky territory, and Graceland never rises above this introduction. After that bit of weirdness, we discover that an Elvis convention is taking place in Las Vegas, and we meet our main characters, all of whom are on the way there. Prime among them is Michael Zane (Kurt Russell), a recently-sprung ex-con who meets sexy single mom Cybil Waingrow (Courtney Cox) on the way to Sin City. He also meets her son Jesse (David Kaye), a burgeoning thief who was named after Jesse James - nice touch, Mom!

After Cybil and Mike knock boots, he heads to Vegas where he meets up with his partners. The leader is Thomas J. Murphy (Kevin Costner), a nutbag who believes he’s Elvis’ love child. While the others adopt Elvis guise for a specific reason, for Murphy it’s more of a lifestyle choice. Anyway, once the gang - which also includes Hanson (Christian Slater), Franklin (Bokeem Woodbine), and Gus (David Arquette) - assembles, they don Elvis costumes to fit in at the convention. From there they attempt to rob the casino. Though they succeed, it becomes a bloody undertaking, and not all of the crooks make it out alive.

From there Graceland becomes a very standard double-cross flick that demonstrates many commonalities with 2000’s Reindeer Games. Since most of these fall into the “plot twist” category, I’ll leave them unsaid, but suffice it to say that Cybil and Jesse will play a more substantial role than one might initially believe, and not all of the semi-prominent names in the cast will establish semi-prominent characters.

Frankly, Graceland has little going for it past its campy “crooks dressed as Elvis” conceit, and that aspect of the film comes across as a throwaway notion. Just like the casino-robbing Santas in Reindeer, the Elvis concept exists to create a clever appearance in the movie’s trailer, but it has virtually nothing to do with the story itself. Once the robbery ends and the crooks go on the lam, the Elvis theme appears sporadically, mainly due to Murphy’s belief in his blood link to the King. However, the majority of the movie is nothing more than a standard action flick as the robbers screw with each other and try to evade the law, here represented mainly by Federal Marshals Quigley (Thomas Haden Church) and Damitry (Kevin Pollak). They offer little threat and seem to exist as an afterthought.

So far, 2001 has been a bad year for Church, as he also played a small role in Monkeybone. In total, those two films cost $137 million to make but they grossed only about $21 million. Ouch! While Monkeybone wasn’t a very good picture, at least it attempted to be creative and original. The same can’t be said for Graceland; once we get past the Elvis concept, the film trots out a slew of tired action flick ideas and goes nowhere.

On its own, Graceland isn’t a terrible film, as it moved along at a fairly acceptably clip and staged enough mayhem to occasionally be watchable. However, it simply seems weary and lifeless, as it brings nothing new to the genre. It could be rather clumsy and obvious at times, too. For example, during the casino gunfight, the movie strongly tries to influence our allegiances with the various characters. Murphy shows no qualms when it comes to killing security, cops, and by-standers, by Zane goes out of his way to stop these folks without bloodshed. This amounts to almost all of the character exposition we’ll get; Zane good, Murphy bad.

Director Demian Lichtenstein is a veteran of the music video biz, and he tries desperately to spice up the proceedings with some of the tactics he used in those clips. This means that Graceland offers lots of quick cutting, stylized photography and choppy shots. This doesn’t mean that Graceland becomes hip or exciting; all of the fuss simply reminds us of how little true excitement there is to see.

Most of the actors are likeable under better circumstances, but the sight of so many folks whose better days seem to fall behind them makes the movie a little sad to watch. At least Costner recently showed that he could appear in solid work with his role in Thirteen Days; that film didn’t sizzle at the box office, but it was a nice offering that reminded us of Costner’s better days. Cox still has Friends, of course, and as a participant in the Scream films, she remains the cast member from that show with the biggest screen success. Because of that, her appearance here comes across as the least depressing, especially since she looked quite hot. Granted, the almost-nude shot of her clearly came from a body double, but Cox still was quite sexy.

Cox’s hot appearance was the closest thing to a highlight I could find in 3000 Miles to Graceland. The movie was a dud, as it provided the same old action film clichés and did nothing to energize or freshen them. This wasn’t a painful movie to watch, but it seemed to be fairly dull and lifeless, and it never really interested me.

As a final note, if you do decide to watch Graceland, be sure to stick it out through the end credits. While the little “performance clip” that runs during most of the text was embarrassing, there’s a quick outtake at their conclusion that was rather amusing. Actually, I got more pleasure from that few seconds of film than I did from the entire preceding 125 minutes.

The DVD:

3000 Miles to Graceland appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. To put it mildly, this was an outstanding picture that always looked absolutely terrific.

Sharpness appeared virtually immaculate throughout the film. Even during wide shots, I saw no signs of softness or fuzziness, as the movie remained crisp and well-defined. This was a very accurate image that always seemed detailed and distinct. No problems with moiré effects or jagged edges appeared, and print flaws also caused no concerns. If any examples of grain, grit, speckles or other defects showed up during the movie, I didn’t see them; I thought this was a very clean and fresh presentation.

As I noted earlier, Graceland was shot in a music video format that emphasized stylized photography. The colors dominated this aspect of the movie, and they looked absolutely glorious. In addition to tints added to some scenes - such as a green presentation to reflect a character’s injury - the movie boasted a tremendously bright and varied palette, mainly during the casino sequences. The combination of Las Vegas glitter and Elvis flash made for some terrific tones, and the DVD replicated them with sizzle and panache. The colors virtually leaped off the screen and they consistently appeared tight and accurate with no signs of bleeding or noise.

Black levels also looked nicely deep and dark, and shadow detail seemed to be appropriately heavy but not excessively thick. Low-light situations always came across as nicely opaque so that they maintained a realistic appearance but weren’t overly shaded. Ultimately, 3000 Miles to Graceland provided a stellar visual experience that I easily earned its “A”.

Also quite solid was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of 3000 Miles to Graceland. As a rock-‘em, sock-‘em action flick, I expected a wild sonic program, and Graceland didn’t disappoint me. All five channels received a strong workout during the film, as both effects and music made good use of the discrete capabilities. Music was an active participant, and the rock-inflected score blasted nicely from all of the speakers; granted, the forward spectrum dominated, but the rears offered very positive reinforcement of the music that made the track nicely involving.

Surround usage also came to the fore during the film’s action sequences. These provided a strong five-channel experience as gunfire, explosions and other dynamic elements popped up all around me. Localization seemed to be positive, and effects moved nicely across channels. Ultimately, the soundfield spread out the imagery well and created a fine environment.

Audio quality also was strong for the most part. Some louder dialogue appeared to be a little rough and harsh, but otherwise speech sounded natural and distinct, with no problems related to intelligibility and no additional signs of edginess. Music was rich and accurate, as the score seemed to be clear and dynamic throughout the film. Not surprisingly, effects offered the best aspects of the mix. All of the loud elements appeared broad and engaging, and they consistently packed a nice punch. Bass response was deep and tight, and the many action sequences gave the subwoofer a nice workout. Overall, 3000 Miles to Graceland offered a very good soundtrack that almost made the movie interesting at times.

The only area in which the DVD release of 3000 Miles to Graceland falters relates to its supplements. All we find are the film’s theatrical trailer and some filmographies for Russell, Costner, and Cox; as often occurs with Warner Bros. DVDs, additional participants are listed, but you cannot access entries for them. While additional extras wouldn’t have made me like the film, they would have created a more compelling package.

As it stands, 3000 Miles to Graceland provided a reasonably good DVD even without significant features, but the movie itself was a clunker. It used quirkiness to hide its lack of depth and originality, and it failed to become engaging or exciting as it wasted a lot of solid actors. The DVD offered excellent picture and sound, but it didn’t include any significant extras. With a list price of only $19.98, the omissions in the latter category become more forgivable. I didn’t like 3000 Miles to Graceland, so I can’t really recommend the DVD, but if you remain interested in it, you should be pleased with the terrific presentation the movie received on this disc.

Equipment: Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.
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