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Review: Elvis

I apologize in advance if this review seems jumbled, disjointed, or confused; unfortunately, utter incoherence is the default response to Baz Luhrmann’s Elvis, a music biopic that takes all the familiar tropes and clichés from Ray, Walk the Line, Bohemian Rhapsody, Rocketman, and Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, grinds them down into a fine powder, and snorts them through a rolled-up million dollar bill. This isn’t something that you “watch”—it is a merciless assault on the eyeballs. Trying to keep up with the relentless pace of its narrative is like climbing a mountain made entirely of polished marble and covered in grease—if you blink, you might miss a whole decade of Presley’s life.

While The King lends the film its unimaginative title, its plot (if that term even applies to this feature-length teaser trailer) revolves around Colonel Tom Parker, who functions as both unreliable narrator and villain protagonist. He shares DNA with Mephistopheles and Othello’s Iago—a devious trickster perched on our hapless hero’s shoulder, whispering sweet poison into his ear and leading him to ruin. Tom Hanks, buried under layers of latex prosthetics and delivering every line in a truly absurd vaguely foreign accent, plays the character with relish, embracing the inherent camp and kitsch of the role (perhaps realizing, unlike the rest of the cast, that he’d signed on to act in a live-action cartoon). His performance will probably be nominated for a Razzie, but it absolutely deserves an Oscar for audacity alone.

Of course, Luhrmann’s decision to put Parker at the center of the story is hardly surprising; the old carnival barker’s penchant for razzle-dazzle perfectly complements the movie’s frenetic visual style. The camera soars and swoops and dives with wild abandon, radiating enough raw kinetic ferocity to make Michael Bay seethe with envy; and scenes cross dissolve and smash cut and otherwise transition in myriad creative ways, as though the editor was determined to experiment with every single function in Adobe Premiere Pro. The spectacle is so fast and energetic and colorful that the audience barely has sufficient time to register that there’s not much substance underneath—the ball was never actually in any of the cups, and everybody’s wallet is significantly lighter as they shuffle out of the theater.

Ultimately, I hesitate to call Elvis “bad”—with this kind of "amusement park" experience, quality is irrelevant to the discussion. Is it an earnest portrait of a tortured artist or an embarrassing and undignified work of self-parody? The answer is a resounding “All of the above”—and I couldn’t help falling in love with the chaotic, confounding contradiction.

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