Repetitious minds

Movie: 3000 Miles to Graceland

Our Rating: 2.50

There are some tricks you can watch your dog perform a million times and still find amusing. Others lose their vulgar appeal after a single viewing -- that whole genital-licking thing, for example.

Were "3000 Miles to Graceland" a dog, its head would be firmly embedded in its crotch. This low-aiming actioner revels in cheap thrills and cheaper laughs that have already been fully exploited elsewhere. The hand-me-down vistas include: a team of hoods robbing a Las Vegas casino ("Ocean's Eleven"); Elvis impersonators flying the Nevada skies ("Honeymoon in Vegas"); Kurt Russell donning the sequins of The King (the 1979 TV movie "Elvis"); Kevin Costner urinating on camera ("Waterworld"); and nonstop gunfire spraying blood in our faces (every video game that's ever been jammed into a sociopath's PlayStation).

Yes, this is a film for folks who still chuckle when a surrogate Presley drawls "Thankyew vurrymuch." Such hillbilly-baiting jokes are tossed around with abandon during the first act, in which a quintet of ex-cons arrive in Vegas to knock over the Riviera hotel and gaming house: As cover, they dress as participants in the International Elvis Convention.

Apparently, we're supposed to find it hilarious that one of these mugs (Bokeem Woodbine) is African-American. Instead, we're laughing at the idiotically sexist banter they spew to blow off steam, and wondering how co-conspirator Christian Slater feels to be imitating Elvis instead of Jack Nicholson for a change.

The heist is the movie's highlight -- close-ups of illicit tools penetrating official machinery are among the crime-caper genre's consistently enjoyable accouterments. Their swag swiped, the felons attempt to flee, only to be caught in the first of many extended shoot-outs that have bodies falling left and right.

After a narrow escape, the surviving stick-up men begin to bicker and double-cross each other. The discord boils down to a cross-country game of cat-and-mouse between the emotionally conflicted Michael (Russell) and the amoral Murphy (Costner), the group's fearless leader. Caught in the crossfire is Cybil (Courteney Cox), a slutty single mom who takes a shine to Michael -- or at least to his money.

"3000 Miles" is at its most respectable whenever Russell is on the screen. Though he's begun to resemble Mickey Dolenz around the edges, he'll always be an irresistible presence. He even pulls off the questionable conceit that Michael -- who becomes a father figure to Cybil's young son, Jesse (David Kaye) -- is some sort of hero, just because he's less trigger-happy than his compatriots.

It's a calamitous mistake, however, to have cast the genetically tame Costner as Murphy, who we're told is both "sinister" and "a real crazy mu'fucker." If you can spot our pal Robin Hood anywhere in this description, you're wearing binoculars. Costner's steely-eyed performance is entirely ludicrous, a fact not hidden by the distracting visual trickery (time-lapse shots, slow motion, CGI) with which the movie fills its conceptual gaps.

On the bright side, we can blame Costner for as many of the picture's defects as we want. With the full blessing of novice director Demian Lichtenstein, both Costner and Russell reportedly turned in their own submissions for the movie's final cut. Russell's version, it's said, focused more on the relationship between Michael and Cybil, while Costner's take won out due to an emphasis on slam-bang action that made it the favorite of preview audiences.

Costner has been loudly touting his foray into ultraviolence, which he sees as a gutsy rejection of his public image. But the movie's over-the-top gunplay isn't a bold creative stroke, just a tasteless and ultimately narcotizing bit of pandering that's bound to bring scorn-by-association on more worthy projects. If the free cinema needs a hero to go head-to-head with John McCain, it can do better than The Postman. And if Costner thinks he's the man for the job, he is indeed one crazy mu'fucker.

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