Elvis and Nixon A Stinker Supreme

ELVIS and NIXON (2106)
Directed by Liza Johnson
Amazon Studios, 86 minutes, R (for language and insipidness)
Zero stars

Have you ever done something so stupid that you were aware of your own idiocy as you were doing it? That was my experience in watching Elvis and Nixon. I'm embarrassed that I actually viewed the entire thing. It is simply one of the worst movies I've ever seen. It is miscast, misdirected, and as broad as a mid-70s Elvis double-knit jump suit.

It depicts an event so inherently bizarre that it beggars the imagination that it actually took place. On December 21, 1970, Elvis showed up at White House gate and requested a meeting with President Nixon. He told startled guards to call him Jon Burrows because he was "working undercover," and that his reason for wanting to see the president was so he could obtain a Bureau of Narcotics badge to give him "credibility" in fighting the war on drugs. If that strikes you as weird, what does it say about the Nixon administration that his request was granted? Picture it—Elvis enters the White House in sunglasses, a purple cape, a gold belt the WWF would have deemed too garish, and bearing a gift of a commemorative Colt-45 for the president. You read it right: Elvis brought a gun to the White House. Yet he got to spend QT with Nixon, hugged the president, and got his badge. That makes Nixon nuttier than a Payday.

Elvis probably had some big holes in his own marbles bag by then. He possessed an arsenal of guns, a growing collection of badges he cadged from various local law enforcement agencies, and harbored the delusion that he personally could wean Woodstock Nation from its use of controlled substances. His marriage to Priscilla was strained and was about to go on the rocks, and let's not forget the Jon Burrows thing. Did Elvis actually imagine that he could simply change his name and that he'd be able to go undercover? As if.

He was also incredibly vain by then. Elvis was insanely jealous of the popularity of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones because they were more popular with young people. Those same teens and young adults increasingly viewed Elvis as a nostalgia act. Worse still, this meant that Elvis' audience was increasingly double wide middle aged women seeking to relive the 1950s. Despite recent comeback tours, Elvis wasn't growing as an artist, which is the slippery slope to Gabor-Kardashian Syndrome—being famous for being famous. Elvis was just a few years removed from being a cheesy, bloated Vegas spectacle. In a tragically ironic twist, Special Agent Burrows would also spiral downward from drug use.

You've probably noticed I've not said much about the film. It doesn't warrant saying much, but here goes. When you have material as juicy as this, you could do one of two things: direct a searing psychological drama or go for camp. Director Liza Johnson veers toward the latter but doesn't have the skill to make a film bad enough to become a cult classic. The end result is directorial slop that makes Ed Wood look like an auteur.

Michael Shannon as Elvis is the worst case of miscasting since Marlon Brando played a Mexican in Viva Zapata! I sat in jaw-dropping stupor from Shannon's embarrassing ineptitude. He sported, for starters, the most obvious bad toupee I've ever seen. Second, Shannon neither looks nor sounds like Elvis and his affected mannerisms were so forced that were you to see such a clod at a bar lounge you'd exclaim, "Worst Elvis impersonator ever!" I'm surprised Shannon got work after this misadventure. Kevin Spacey doesn't look much like Nixon either, but he's such a pro that he inhabits his character. He's the only thing worth watching. The rest of the cast manages to make it through without drooling, but they're just playing 1970s dress-up.

In Neil Simon's The Goodbye Girl, the character Elliot Garfield described his acting effort as "Capital P, capital U, capital TRID." I can think of no better way to describe Elvis and Nixon. What was I thinking?

Rob Weir

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