From the ridiculous to the absurd, sometimes a film needs a comical premise to provide the sugar for the medicine of an important social message. Fans of Dan Coscarelli’s Bubba Ho-Tep might think that I’m taking the movie a bit too seriously as it is, and I certainly understand that. It’s one of the reasons I have this piece listed outside of the top 20 on the countdown, despite it being one of my favorite movies. Perhaps I’m over-analyzing a film based on spontaneity and absurd humor. But I’ll be damned if I’m not going to write about it, anyways.
Let’s start from the top. Bruce Campbell (Yes, “Kiss my Boomstick” Bruce Campbell) plays Elvis, who secretly changed lives with a popular Elvis impersonator as the allure of fame began to wear off in the twilight stages of his career. Now with the “real” Elvis long dead, he spends his days in a retirement home, unable to move freely. The first half of the film is spent primarily with him reminiscing, and providing the viewing audience of an explanation as to how hey got there. It’s not far off from the stereotype of the old codger living alone. No one cares who he used to be; the nursing staff believe him to be crazy.
For a comedy, the opening is actually quite depressing. It centers on the tediously slow process of getting old and dying. Elvis’s roommate, a distinguished war hero, passes early in the film, only to have most of his possessions discarded (including his war medal) by an uncaring family member. The message being, no matter what you do in the prime of your life, by the end of it, no one will remember or respect you for it. The newer generations are so wrapped up in their own lives and ambitions, the elderly that laid the steps down before them are seen as, at best, a hindrance. The film does not ask for a change in perspective on the part of the young adults, though. It asks for a change from the elderly.
Here’s where the film gets fun. An old unruly soul-sucking Egyptian mummy rises and begins taking over the facility. Faced with not only with death, now, Elvis is forced to take measures to protect his soul, and those of all the elderly in the building. He teams up with former president JFK (Who has been transformed into an elderly black man) to combat the mummy and have one last adventure.
The result is an incredibly unintentional inspirational story. As Elvis finds a new purpose in life he becomes increasingly limber, feeling more alive. The message is clear; you are only old and irrelevant if you let yourself become that way. The “get up and do something about it” attitude is infectious. If you finish this film not in instantly better spirits and without a laugh under your belt, you likely have already lost your soul to the mummy. It’s a fun ride, and an outside-the-box breath of fresh air from the increasingly predictable and standardized Hollywood genres of today’s films. (Romantic comedy, comic book movie, brainless action hero, slasher flick, then Mummy-fighting Elvis with black JFK. Which of these things is not like the other?)
Watch it. If not for the message, then for the humor.