Bubba Ho-Tep is maybe one of the weirdest and most outrageous plots ever committed to film: An old man who is coming out of a coma caused by a shattered hip, in an East Texas rest home, with cancer of the penis claims to be the actual Elvis Presley, he meets and befriends a wheelchair bound African American guy who claims to be JFK, dyed black and with a bag of sand for a brain and together they fight a 2000 year old Mummy in a cowboy outfit. Add to the fact that Elvis is played by, none other than, B-Movie genius Bruce Campbell and Jack Kennedy by the legendary Ossie Davis and if that synopsis doesn't make you want to either rush out and buy the film right away or get it out and watch it for the 100th time then there is something medically wrong with you.
The miracle with Bubba Ho-Tep is just how Don Coscarelli, the director, Joe R Lansdale, the original story writer and the cast manage to ring every ounce of emotion, sentiment, message and pathos from this, admittedly, ludicrous sounding premise. If you want a genuinely affecting buddy movie, then it's here, if you want a statement on how we treat old people in our society, then it's here and if you want comments on life, death, fame, the meaning of being a hero and the nature of nobility then it's all here but without, in any way being preachy or taking itself too seriously. Now, for cinema, that may just be the greatest trick anyone ever pulled.
In fact, Bubba Ho-Tep, for all it's wild sounding notions, is a lesson in stripped down, simplistic, narrative driven storytelling. That's not to say that Coscarelli's style is simple, far from it, but the film just plays out slowly, sweetly and without any fuss. He makes it look entirely effortless, keeps your attention and the result is a mature, funny, engaging and strangely touching movie about two fallen icons being given one last chance.
At the same time as seemingly being a softer paced, dialogue driven character piece it also has moments of sublime, surreal humour, knock about slapstick, explosions and action which never feel out of place or over-the-top. It's also one of the funniest movies of the last 10 years. Also, I defy anyone, not to get a single solitary man tear by the end of the film. It gets really sad in places.
In his performance, Bruce Campbell, not only proves himself to be an actor that is far more versatile than he is usually given credit for (lets see De Niro pull of an elderly Elvis with a growth on his penis and maintain such a high level of dignity) and mirrors the film, in that he is subtle, restrained, simple and 100% effective. Thirty minutes into the film you are not watching Bruce, you are watching Elvis, such is the immersive quality of Campbell's acting, ability to work with make-up, take on anything the role demands and lack of star ego. If the Oscar's were given out honestly then he really should've won because I can't think of a better more believable performance given by an actor in the last decade, let alone just in 2002. For all the people who think Bruce Campbell just plays his 'Ash' persona in everything, the swaggering loud mouth, prat-falling idiot, then they are not only mistaken, missing the true underlying subtlety in a lot of his work but have to flat-out change their opinion after watching Bubba Ho-Tep, such is the honest genius of his portrayal. If only there were more roles like this for him to sink his teeth into. It's a real shame that they couldn't agree on part two, oh well.
Ossie Davis, also, is perfectly cast as Jack Kennedy and at no point, once the friendship is fully established, do you ever not believe him. It is a really tricky role to pull off and it requires a certain stature and grace to portray it as believably as possible and Ossie has all that as well as the authority of screen presence, sense of history and sheer brilliant acting ability. He also mixes in a little sense of the absurd and is obviously having tons of fun with the role.
The supporting actors too, are all perfectly cast and provide a solid, amusing ensemble to back up the two leads but this is definitely the Ossie and Bruce show.
The other joy of this film is that the effects are, almost all, practical, gloriously low tech and work perfectly. The work that Coscarelli and his crew do with lighting, for example, is tremendous and completely suitable as it harks perfectly back to the mummy picture of the 30s.
KNB's make-up is superb and, like always, subtly compliments the film without ever becoming showy or threatening to take over the piece. They also came up with a new, dramatic, skeletal depiction of the mummy and a faultless aging effect for Bruce.
Finally, finishing the film off in a truly inspired and, in places, transcendent way is Brian Tyler's score which can not be praised enough. It was a tall order to make a film about Elvis without using any of his music (it would be too expensive) and the only way to overcome that and not disappoint the audience or even let them notice was to have a fantastic score/soundtrack and that's what Tyler gives us. It is haunting and poignant when it needs to be, light, loose and inspiring in the right places, dramatic, catchy and compliments the style of the film perfectly.
The best thing about all of it is that the film was completely independently financed and filmed, then when it was released it was taken around the country, state by state, using the internet and Bruce's fans to get the word out by forming street teams of promoters and all that effort paid off as it wound up being successful enough to get a distribution deal in Europe and receive an MGM released, no less, deluxe DVD. It really was the little movie that could, proving, once again, that what an intelligent audience seems to want is original, interesting movies.
Yes, as I have said before, it's a shame this sort of film doesn't get made more often but the fact that one seems to squeeze out every few years is, to paraphrase Hunter S Thompson, a sign that someone, somewhere is tending to the light at the end of the tunnel.
10 out of 10 tins of old fashioned chocolates
Points from The Misses 9 out of 10 tins of old fashioned chocolates