3000 Miles to Graceland: Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell

The Tarantino effect is very much in evidence in Demian Lichtenstein’s 3000 Miles to Graceland, a trashy, excessively violent actioner about a casino heist that goes hilariously and uproariously awry.

Using the iconic Elvis Presley and his ostentatious attire as a conceit, the yarn is set against the background of the glitzy, high-energy chaos surrounding an International Elvis Week in Las Vegas, where a band of Elvis impersonators tot heavy weaponry in their guitar cases.

Toplined by Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, as the band’s rival masterminds, and displaying some elaborately engineered action set pieces, the picture will have a decent opening, but unappealing title, R-rating, and sleazy gore should signal midrange box-office.

Five ex-cons, who dub themselves the Elvis 5, stroll into the Riviera Casino, costumed in Elvis jumpsuits and tinted glasses. It’s immediately noticeable that only one of them, Murphy (Costner), the heist’s ringleader, wears the iconic sideburns with conviction; every minor allusion to the King leads to an explosive behavior. Claiming that he’s the King’s illegitimate son, Murphy is resentful for not being recognized as such. It’s a love/hate relationship, with Elvis functioning as a lifelong sore spot.

The crooked bunch steals away with 3.2 million, leaving the hotel in ruins and a high blood it makes a rooftop escape via helicopter, courtesy of pilot Jack (football star Howie Long). Group dynamics is based on familiarity: Murphy and Michael (Russell) are former cellmates. Five years of shared prison time have provided them with enough personal information to predict each other’s moves. This knowledge is put to test in a high-stakes game of cat-and-mouse, when, instead of dividing up the loot, Murphy betrays his fellows by hiding the stash and trying to kill them. Surviving the treachery, Michael beats Murphy to the hidden loot and sets out to launder the marked currency with the help of Jay (Jon Lovitz), an antique dealer who doubles as a money launderer.

Each man gains and loses the upper hand at varying moments. Their chases, with Michael driving a beat-up Plymouth Valiant and Murphy trailing ruthlessly in a cherry red 59 Caddy convertible, escalate to an explosive finale in the remote Pacific Northwest. Some dark humor is provided along the way by exchanges of macho braggadocio between the duo, as well as by the portrait of two inept lawmen (Kevin Pollak and Thomas Hayden Church), which always seem to be one step behind.

3000 Miles is the kind of sleazy picture in which the heroes compete with each other and are differentiated by their degree of badness. While both leaders are corrupt losers, Murphy is a mercenary sociopath with no redeeming attributes, whereas Michael is a criminal who suddenly discovers his heart and his conscience. Bringing what’s left of his tarnished humanity to the surface are Cybil (Friends’ Courtney Cox), a sexy grifter with small-town baggage and big-time dreams, and Jesse (David Kaye), her precocious son, a wannabe criminal in desperate need of a father figure.

In its seedy, pulpish style and nastily profane dialogue, 3000 Miles is a cheap imitator of Tarantino’s films, with a touch of True Romance (which Tarantino wrote and Tony Scott directed) thrown into the mix. In its gun-blazing mayhem, lurid pyrotechnics and fancy stunt work, the movie is a pale copy of John Woo’s actioned-packed thrillers. On its own terms, however, it’s just a crude movie with bold look and crisp tempo that propels the action from one shootout to another, until it finally reaches the most violent of its crescendos.

Watching the film, viewers are reminded of Kurt Russell as the boy who had worked with the real Elvis on a movie, as well as his impersonation of the King in the 1979 TV movie, This Is Elvis. Both Russell and Costner bring a squinty-eyed, cold-blooded enthusiasm to their characters, which square off for memorably obscene name-calling at various points in the story. As the tough but vulnerable Cybil, a free spirit who loves adventure, Cox shows a different facade of her persona than the one audiences are accustomed to see in Friends. Other thesps of the solid cast, including Christian Slater and David Arquette as members of Elvis 5, also hit their marks in brief roles.

3000 Miles malevolently tries to excite viewers with its numerous bashes, extraordinary cynicism, and obscene sadism: Men are chained, impaled and burnt, and half of the cast is gone before the first hour is over. Afraid of boring the viewers for one second, the picture hits over the head with nonstop gritty action, quick cutting, and assaultive soundtrack.