Monday, May 30, 2005

This place cleaned up pretty nice once Moe Green was out of the picture: "Viva Las Vegas"

This is no big stain on my movie-watching reputation, but I had never seen an Elvis Presley movie. Nothing personal, but I never was dying to see the King on the screen, especially since there was a decent chance he wouldn't go more than a few minutes without breaking into song. Hey, if I want that, I'll watch "South Park."

But if I was ever going to give Elvis the Actor a chance, "Viva Las Vegas" seemed a safe bet. First, I love the song; might be my favorite Elvis tune, and the Dead Kennedys cover kicks ass. (I also have a soft spot for "Suspicious Minds" and find "In the Ghetto" bizarrely compelling.) Second, I love Vegas, and because the landscape has changed since 1964 -- just a bit -- this movie figured to be a nice time capsule.

Sure enough, the opening credits show off the Vegas skyline, starting with downtown, which may have been the shiznit in the '60s but in the 21st century has been reduced to putting on goofy light shows to attract crowds. Compared with "Viva," the Golden Nugget, Binion's and other downtown staples today are depressing. Hey, I like $2 blackjack as much as anyone, but it wouldn't kill them to raise the ceiling and install more than three lightbulbs inside the casino.

The "plot," as it were, has Elvis as a race car driver trying to enter the Las Vegas Grand Prix. Within minutes he finds himself in another competition: with a suave European driver for the affections of Ann-Margret ("Tommy"), the lovely hyphenated one and pride of Northwestern University. I have to admit I liked the King's first interlude with A-M, in which she brings her car to the mechanic and tells Elvis that it's whistling. "I don't blame it," he answers. Smooth.

As the movie progressed, though, A-M vexed me. Good-looking? You betcha. But she also was pretty goofy and a bit spastic during the dance scenes. There was dancing, you say? Yeah, and even some singing. How about that? But you know ... some numbers were all right, and I have to say the light-colored suit and yellow shirt Elvis wore during one number was pretty sharp.

Of course, you can guess how the romance between Lucky Jackson (Elvis) and Rusty Martin (A-M) turns out, and it's probably no mystery what happens in the race, either. Hey, it's 1964, and the King doesn't settle for second. Even so, this was surprisingly watchable between the kitsch factor and the 85-minute running time. Will I run out and rent "Jailhouse Rock," "Blue Hawaii" or "Girls, Girls, Girls?" Probably not. But Elvis didn't bore me here, and for that I thankyaveramuch.


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