Directed by Don Coscarelli
Screenplay by Don Coscarelli
Based on the novella Bubba Ho-tep by Joe R. Lansdale
Starring Bruce Campbell and Ossie Davis
For those of you on the go, who only have time to read newspaper headlines and the crawls at the bottom of your TV screens to stay informed, here’s the Cliffs Notes version of my review to help get you by at cocktail parties: Bubba Ho-tep Missteps.
Here's a brief summary of the plot. In an East Texas old folks' home, two men, one claiming to be Elvis and the other claiming to be J.F.K., fight an Egyptian mummy who is sucking the souls out of the elderly residents. I know what you’re thinking: how could this miss? It sounds fantastic and with Bruce “Don’t call me Ash” Campbell in the mix I was eagerly on board. This had the potential to be in the "Big Trouble in Little China" class but regrettably, the film comes up short.
The film starts off very intriguing because the premise is surprisingly believable. Everything from how the mummy ends up wreaking havoc in East Texas to Elvis still being alive all made sense. Unfortunately, it leaves you wanting more because there’s not enough action or humor to last an entire film. That's not to say there aren't funny moments, such as when an old woman steals a pair of eyeglasses or a 70-year-old Elvis trying to perform karate on the Egyptian mummy but these scenes are too few and far between, interspersed with scenes where the film comes to a screeching halt. Elvis is too fixated and so is the film with his penis, whether it's a growth on it or an erection he gets after years of going without. I understand the metaphor since Elvis now having something to live for, some life in his system is now getting erections, but it's too repetitive. With all the penis talk I felt like I was watching The Howard Stern show.
Bruce and Ossie are great as old men who are or who believe they are Elvis and JFK. According to Elvis, he switched places with an impersonator to escape his life and it's the impersonator who overdosed and died on the toilet. JFK had his brain placed in the body of a black man. Both actors commit themselves to the parts convincingly, taking seriously the beliefs of the characters. There’s no knowing wink to the camera letting us know they are in on the joke. Bruce doesn’t get too broad in his characterization of Elvis and keeps from playing the part as a parody. Ossie has an easier time because he doesn’t act like JFK. It doesn't matter if they are who they believe they are because that’s not what the story is about. Instead it’s about old people finding purpose in their lives, a difficult task we’ll all have to deal with soon enough.
This could have been a great 30 minutes, but it's easy to see that the novella the film is based on is stretched way too thin. The low budget they worked with shows in a lot of the scenes, some of which look like they are from a student film. Bruce's charm and talent aren't enough to raise the movie higher than mediocre. It might be something you would stop on late one night while flipping around the dial, but you be gone at the first commercial break.