Elvis, 2022, 2 stars

Baz dazzles but befuddles

That’s not all right, mama

Exclusive to MeierMovies, July 24, 2022

“Wise men say only fools rush in,” Elvis Presley sang.

Director Baz Luhrmann should have taken those words to heart, as almost all he does in Elvis, his new whirlwind of a musical bio-pic, is rush. The freneticism is so prominent that much of the movie, particularly the first hour, resembles a trailer. And by the time I reached the end of this 159-minute bloated extravaganza, I was exhausted – yet thankful that Elvis had finally left the building. (If only he had exited 30 minutes sooner, and more quietly.)

The film is a heavily embellished and partially anachronistic story of Presley from 1955 to his death in 1977 (with flashbacks to his childhood), told by his manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker. Labeled the “snowman” (a twist on “showman” to emphasize his knack for a con), Parker is played by Tom Hanks in a distracting fat suit, prosthetic makeup and an unnecessary and confusing (Dutch?) accent. The real Parker was apparently sans that sound, at least later in life, as evidenced by this interview.

But reality seems to hold little sway over Luhrmann, as he proved to positive effect with Moulin Rouge! But while that 2001 classic was almost pure fantasy, Elvis is rooted in the story of a real person, who sang real music, and changed the lives of real people. And despite the movie’s wildly entertaining cinematography, clever special effects and general lust for life, Presley – both the man and his music – often get a bit lost.

The main reason the King doesn’t get dethroned entirely is the stellar turn from Austin Butler, the 30-year-old California actor impossibly tasked with embodying Elvis and even doing some of the singing (mostly when Elvis is young). Amazingly, the Butler did it – and thereby saves Luhrmann’s film from falling into farce.

I wish I could say see the movie if you like Presley’s music, but I can’t. (Modern interpretations often ruin the rustic feel of the early rock and roll.) And I wish I could say see it if you aren’t already familiar with Presley, but I can’t do that either. (Though Luhrmann gets most of the major life events right and offers factual insights into Parker, he and co-writers Sam Bromell and Craig Pearce exercise too much creative license for this critic’s tastes. See The Wrap for a factual analysis.)

So I’m left with a recommendation only for diehard Luhrmann fans and friends. Oh, and if you see Baz – who probably won’t return my calls after this review – please thank him for his auteur sensibility and his artistic bravery, but remind him to take his Ritalin.

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For more information on this movie, visit IMDB and Wikipedia