Elvis Meets Nixon
Director: Allan Arkush
Starring: Rick Peters, Bob Gunton, Curtis Armstrong
* * * *
Hilarious, scary, touching, ridiculous and at least 90% true. Hosted and narrated by Dick Cavett and featuring guest commentary from luminaries Graham Nash, Wayne Newton, Tony Curtis, Edwin Newman and even 'Deep Throat' (his back to the camera, of course) and taking place a few days before Christmas 1970, Elvis Meets Nixon portrays a tired, burnt out King of Rock and Roll deciding to flee Graceland - on his own - with nobody else - for the first time in fourteen years. After managing the daunting task of purchasing Airline tickets all by his lonesome, the "incognito" King (decked out in a purple outfit with cape, a septer, and a loaded Colt 45 AND Derringer!) sets out on a series of bizarre flights that eventually lead him to the White House and his infamous meeting with Tricky Dick. Why is Elvis so intent on meeting with Prez. Nixon? Because 'ol E. had an epiphany; he wanted to become a federal marshall under the DEA! Simultaneously, Nixon (being bombarded with war protestors at his gates) is attempting to "connect with the kids" and "make it groovy for them to like me". He sees Elvis as the perfect starting point for such an endeavor.
Full review after the jump.
Allan Arkush (who among other things lensed the cult flick, Rock 'n Roll High School) has called Elvis Meets Nixon his best film and lamments that nobody has seen it. After a brief run as a made for cable movie on Cinemax, it enjoyed an even briefer release on vhs before disappearing altogether at the end of the '90s (vhs originals fetch a high price when they're even available). This is really a shame as it is an absolutely note perfect mockumentary. Among the many, many stranger than fiction highlights include Elvis holding up an all black ghetto donut shop, Elvis visiting a hippie record store and horrified to learn that his latest record is in the oldies section along with Bobby Rydel and Fabian. In said record shop he recognizes John and Yoko's bed-in for peace ('that is seriously fucked up" is his reply), airplane hijinks (explaining karate to a little kid, reducing the plane's pilot to tears "When I was a kid, I saw Love Me Tender 14 times. I cried every time you died") to his historic meeting with Nixon (where they break into a verse of My Wild Irish Rose!). As Deep Throat so succinctly put it, "what really goes on is absolutely terrifying".
The cast are all on top of their game. Rick Peters may not look that much like Elvis, but his interpretation is so good and so realistic (even when the scene itself is a decidely surreal one) that we fully buy into it. His is maybe the best Elvis impersonation ever committed to film. The voice and the mannerisms are absolutely dead on. Bob Gunton (best known as the prison warden in The Shawshank Redemption) supplies a hilariously over the top interpretation of Dick that somehow seems just right. That these two actors manage to bring a sense of pathos and even a little warmth to these two lost souls (despite the often cringe worthy remarks that come pouring out of their mouths), speaks volumes about the commitment to their respective parts. The King's bodyguards were apparently renamed for the film (why, I don't know) with Curtis Armstrong's ever panic stricken portrayal of 'Farley' (Charlie Hodge in actuality) being a particular standout. The commentators also have tongue firmly planted in cheek here (Tony Curtis gloats about how Elvis immitated him). The dialogue given to each and every character in the film is as sharp as can be.
I've really only scratched the surface here. Elvis Meets Nixon is as purely entertaining a movie as I have ever seen. I've watched it at least half a dozen times since first getting it on dvdr a year or so ago and each time, I've found something new that makes me laugh or just shake my head in disbelief (knowing that most of what I'm watching is primarily based on fact). As Elvis himselvis declares on multiple occasions "Mah boy, mah boy!".