MOVIE BUFF-ET: Elvis & Nixon a fun little movie with big-time performances

Michael Shannon doesn’t look like Elvis or for that matter sound like him, but that doesn’t keep the talented character actor from delivering a funny, ironic, and even poignant performance as Presley in Liza Johnson’s Elvis & Nixon.

On the other hand, Kevin Spacey looks, sounds and moves like Richard Nixon in a cagey performance that borders on spoof of the 37th president of the United States, but Spacey stays just enough in check to keep the film from flying off the rails.

New In Local Theaters

  • Purple Rain (R) 1 hr., 51 mins.
    (AMC Fiesta Square)
    » Watch trailer
  • Mother’s Day (PG-13), 1 hr., 58 min.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills)
    » Watch trailer
  • Keanu (R), 1 hr., 40 mins.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne)
    » Watch trailer
  • Ratchet and Clank (PG), 1 hr., 34 mins.
    (AMC Fiesta Square, Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills)
    » Watch trailer
  • Green Room (PG), 1 hr., 34 mins.
    (Malco Razorback, Malco Rogers Towne)
    » Watch trailer
  • Papa Hemingway in Cuba (R), 1hr. , 39 mins.
    (Malco Razorback, Malco Pinnacle Hills)
    » Watch trailer
  • Raja Cheyyi Vesthe (NR), 2 hrs., 30 mins.
    (Malco Rogers Town)
    » Watch trailer
  • My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 (112 Drive Inn) (R) 1 hr., 34 mins.
    8:15 p.m. Friday-Sunday
    » Watch trailer
  • The Boss (112 Drive Inn) (R) 1 hr., 39 mins.
    10:45 p.m. Friday-Sunday
    » Watch trailer

The film is absurd in the best possible way, offering a fictional account of the clandestine 1970 meeting between the eccentric King of Rock and Roll and the paranoid leader of the free world. While it’s commonplace for celebrities of all stripes to visit the White House and meet with the President today, that wasn’t always the case 45 years ago, and especially not in Nixon’s administration.

Today Elvis is perceived to be as white bread as he could possibly be, but there was still a dash of danger attached to his image, at least to some, in early ‘70s, despite the fact he was already considered a has-been by counter-culture movement of the day.

Shannon (Man of Steel, Mud) underplays the role during much of the film, making the portrayal even more effective when he does turn up the wattage when the King needs to put on his charm. Shannon’s performance grabbed me in a scene in a Memphis airport in which he patronizes a couple of Elvis impersonators who offer him notes on how to play Elvis.

His best scene, though, is when he explains to his friend and handler Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) the difference between the man and his public persona while putting on his gaudy outfit and outlandish jewelry. Pettyfer serves as out eyes into the lonely life of the entertainer, and he ends up being the heart of the film. Pettyfer wants to get off Elvis’ rock-and-roll merry-go-round and set down real roots with his soon-to-be fiancé, but Elvis lures him back into the fold for another escapade to Washington D.C.

Spacey’s performance as Nixon rises above a caricature when he takes a call from his daughter Julie and instantly brightens up. She cajoles Nixon into actually taking the meeting with Elvis, who wants to be named as a federal agent at large for the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs, in order to get a badge to add to his collection. We learn in the movie that the King has a great admiration for law enforcement.

Colin Hanks and Evan Peters are both very funny as Nixon aides who see a big upside in Nixon entertaining Elvis’ wishes for a meeting. The meeting itself is a sort of a duel between the two men who at first step on each other’s toes but then find more common ground than they ever thought possible.

It would be easy to write the movie off as a trifle, but the performances throughout the movie are too good not to take notice. Needless to say, I’ll be looking out for the next film directed Johnson.

Grade: B+

Note: The video below features the tune “Elvis is a Narc” by the comedy duo Pinkard and Bowden, speculating on what Elvis might have done with the badge that he sought in the movie.

Classic Corner

King Creole
Elvis Presley made a lot of movies. Most of them were formulaic and, despite certain charms such as his own undeniable charisma and a bevy of gorgeous co-stars, were pretty lame. However, King Creole, directed by Michael Curtiz, is a fine movie featuring arguably Elvis’ finest performance as Danny Fisher, a hard-luck teen who can’t keep himself out of trouble despite himself.

The 1958 film set in the more seedy parts of New Orleans co-stars Carolyn Jones (Morticia on the Adams Family TV show) and Walter Matthau as the other two legs of a love triangle. Matthau, a club owner and gangster, becomes jealous when Elvis, a dishwasher in the club, begins to draw Jones’ attention away from him. Vic Morrow plays Matthau’s chief thug. Dolores Hart is another woman who longs for Elvis, but has problems with his willful ways.

Purple Rain
The AMC Fiesta Square Theater is playing the re-release Purple Rain in honor of the death of Prince last week. The 1984 film and the album rocketed the already rising star into the stratosphere, and the artist never looked back.

The plot is fairly traditional, but the content is not. It was a racy movie for its time, but the reason to watch it again is for the extended concert sequences of Prince and Morris Day and The Time. Prince was as electric in the film as he was in his concert performances. Purple Rain won an Academy Award for Best Original Score and featured such classics as the title cut, “When Doves Cry”, and “I Would Die 4 U.”