3000 Miles to Graceland
Screenplay : Richard Recco and Demian Lichtenstein
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 2001
Stars : Kurt Russell (Michael), Kevin Costner (Murphy), Courteney Cox (Cybil), David Kaye (Jesse), Christian Slater (Hanson), Howie Long (Jack), Jon Lovitz (J. Peterson), David Arquette (Gus)
Demian Lichtenstein's 3000 Miles to Graceland opens in the middle of the Nevada desert with a close-up, frenetic battle to the death between two seemingly giant computer-generated scorpions with leering cartoonish scowls. Much like the rest of the movie, this opening fight sequence is loud, crude, and too long for its own good. While I am sure that it is intended to have some kind of symbolic significance (one of the characters has a scorpion tattoo and a scorpion sting figures into the climax), it is better read as a perfectly crystallized instance of everything that is wrong with this overblown heist flick.
Styling itself after the postmodern crime capers of Quentin Tarantino about eight years too late and employing visual pyrotechnics that would make Oliver Stone dizzy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is about as devoid of content as one can imagine a crime movie being. It is, in every conceivable instance, over-baked and under-conceived.
Ultimately, though, its single greatest failing is that there is not a single sympathetic character to be found. Truly great crime filmmakers like Sam Peckinpah, David Mamet, and Tarantino are able to work their way into the criminal sensibility and make outlaws, hitmen, con artists, and bank robbers interesting and often likable, even if it's only for their rouge nonconformity. Lichtenstein is under the impression that if you take a couple of movie stars, hand them large automatic weapons, and fill their mouths with some profane tough-guy talk, they will automatically draw interest. In the great crime movies, we are drawn in because we want to know what makes these people tick. In 3000 Miles to Graceland, we just want to get away from them.
The story traps us in a duel between two professional criminals recently out of jail, Michael (Kurt Russell) and Murphy (Kevin Costner). Together with a couple of other goons (two of whom are played by Christian Slater and David Arquette, but their characters have so little impact on screen that they could have been played by anyone), they concoct a flamboyant robbery of a Las Vegas casino during National Elvis Week. Dressed in gaudy, rhinestone-studded jumpsuits, complete with capes and square sunglasses, the Elvis-impersonating robbers turn the casino into a shooting gallery in an admittedly audacious and well-choreographed shoot-out with security guards and Las Vegas police officers. After about two-dozen people have been killed, including a few civilians caught in the crossfire and one of the robbers, the others retire to their sleazy motel to divide up the stolen $3.2 million.
Of course, it's never that easy, and the proceedings quickly erupt into a flurry of double-crosses and murder, until only Michael and Murphy are left to square off over the dough. Also thrown into the mix is Cybil (Courtney Cox), the owner of the motel who, along with her criminal-in-training 10-year-old son, Jesse (David Kaye), hooks up with Michael and tries to form a thrown-together family on the lam (it is here that the story essentially devolves into a road movie that goes nowhere).
Because this is a heist movie, no one is to be trusted, and everyone double-crosses everyone else at some time or another. The problem is that we don't care who's double-crossing whom because none of the characters are really worth caring about. This even includes Jesse (named after the gunfighter Jesse James), whose youthful desire to emulate the worst in humanity is probably meant to be deviously charming, but comes off as just kind of creepy (his uneasy rapport with Michael, though, is about the closest the movie comes to generating an interesting relationship).
Kevin Costner attempts to inject Murphy with the same kind of amoral, sociopathic charm that he used to great effect in Clint Eastwood's A Perfect World (1993), but it just doesn't work. Ridiculous Elvis-inspired sideburns aside, Costner just doesn't fit the part. His role is underwritten to the point that the only thing about Murphy we have to hold on to is his belief that he's Elvis Presley's illegitimate son. Kurt Russell is equally lost in the role of Michael, who is supposed to be the "good" criminal for whom we root. Unfortunately, he's just as underwritten (although you would think they could have had more fun with Russell in the role, considering he gave one of the best portrayals of Elvis in a 1979 TV movie directed by John Carpenter).
Perhaps writer/director Demian Lichtenstein and co-screenwriter Richard Recco felt they were constantly upping the movie's tension by piling plot twist on top of plot twist, but all the accomplish is painfully dragging out an uninteresting narrative. At two hours in length, 3000 Miles to Graceland feels more like 3000 hours in the movie theater. Lichtenstein basically reaches his violent aesthetic peak in the casino robbery, which takes place in the first 20 minutes; thus, the final, protracted climax of dozens of characters exchanging thousands of machine-gun bullets feels like a tiresome rehashing. There's no gusto, no imagination; just volume.
On the other hand, it is possible that Lichtenstein sensed the narrative and character weaknesses, which would explain his decision to overload the screen with visual tricks that have no thematic purpose other than to call attention to themselves and draw our attention away from the story. Sped-up photography, sideways camera angles, the aforementioned CGI scorpions, and a nonstop assault of undistinguished thrash rock that match the thousands upon thousands of bullets fired do nothing to heighten the story's emotion. It just leaves you with a headache.
©2001 James Kendrick