Review: Bubba Ho-Tep

Bruce Campbell gives the performance of his career in this slightly spooky, sometimes touching, and downright hysterical Bubba Ho-tep. A comedy- horror film that raises the bar for low-budget horror movies and independent films everywhere!

RATING: 4 out of 5

Let's face it -- Bruce Campbell is the most under-rated actor in America!

I say this about many actors in the profession, but when it comes right down to it, the world needs more actors like Bruce Campbell. He is the working man's actor, a fact he proudly proclaims in his memoirs If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B-movie Actor. He manages to give a wink and a nod to the "craft" of acting, and doesn't hesitate to call it like he sees it. Instead of giving in to the "Hollywood Machine" or believing that every piece of work he's currently working on is the next great film soon to be immortalized by AFI, Campbell takes the gigs that pays the rent. And while he has struck a few mother lodes in his career (Army of Darkness, the Hercules/Xena series), he has appreared in some truly aweful films (Moontrap, Congo)...and on account of these score of low-budget, barely-hyped, hardly-worthwhile films, he's been labeled as a B-level actor, and the roles offered to him reflect as such.

But if you want to know how good Bruce Campbell is, watch Bubba Ho-tep, now available on DVD.

With the same tongue planted firmly into cheek, Bubba Ho-tep is the independent film that, to the surprise of serious filmmakers everywhere, captured top honors at various festivals. "But this is a HORROR film," said these overly-cultured beret-wearing arteests, echoing the same protests their literary conterparts did when King won the 2003 American Literary Award. Yes, Bubba Ho-tep is a horror movie, along the same lines as Army of Darkness as it has a sense of humor, and it is this sense of humor, its quirky storyline, and the performances that create a charm that is hard to resist.

So what's the story? Okay, brace yourself...

Elvis, it seems, is not dead. What happened was Elvis, burned out and disillusioned on the lifestyle of a rock and roll legend, chose to switch places with an Elvis impersonnator. Sadly, the written contract that The (real) King kept concerning this switcharoo went up in smoke in a freak trailer park accident...and while working the circuit as the BEST Elvis improsonnator available, his hip gave out and he is now confined to life at a retirement home. Of course, no one believes he's really Elvis Aaron Presley except for one other, a black man who claims to be John F. Kennedy. Now, HIS story is that Johnson usurped The White House by staging the assassination, having the CIA dye his skin, and removing a piece of his brain for "evidence" of his death. Now if this doesn't complicate things enough for you, these two discover that their rest home is haunted by a soul-sucking mummy. While he doesn't enjoy the vitality of fresh young souls, the rest home is a prime grazing field for him to sustain life. And this mummy has been in the area for so long that he's acquired a more "down-home" approach to sucking souls.

Bubba Ho-Tep does not sport the same kind of high-end budget of a fantasy film or horror movie like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl, Van Helsing, or the Alien film, and the script at some points suffers from under-development, if not resorting to slapstick schtick (with two undertakers, in particular); but the movie is at its best when Bruce Campbell (Elvis) and Ozzie Davis (JFK) are on the screen. The good news is that is about 90% of the time. Now Ozzie Davis is a great actor. Always has been. It comes as no surprise that he does a terrific job as a man who is convinced he is JFK. It is such a convincing acting job that you are also wondering if he really is JFK.

But it is Bruce Campbell who redefines himself as an actor and brings this film home. We are used to the tongue-in-cheek Campbell from Jack of All Trades and the Evil Dead films, but in Bubba Ho-tep, he's not doing a charicature of Elvis. He is The King of Rock and Roll...and he's The King if the King was pushing 70, suffered a bad hip, and found himself a shell of the man he once was, regrets and mistakes haunting him in the remaining days of his life. This is a very poignant, powerful performance on Campbell's part; and while he never loses sight of the task at hand (a comedic-horror movie), he does create a very different look at Elvis and his life. If you can get past some of the short-comings of the film (most of it on account of budget, I'm sure...), Bubba Ho-tep will surprise you in its depth and its overall impact. This is the best work Campbell has ever done, even surpassing his two-part Homicide: Life on the Street performance, and makes this film worth your time.

If I were to ask anything from Bubba Ho-tep, it was that it had been longer. Coming in at only 92 minutes, I think another half-hour would have only benefitted this film. As is, the film is a real find.

In a perfect world, Bruce Campbell would receive an Oscar for this incredible and flawless performance. In a just world, he would at least get a SAG or an Oscar nomination...but as Michael Moore's been screaming in his documentaries, the world is neither perfect, nor just.

Campbell can hold that killer chin of his high with pride though. He is a lot more than a B-movie actor now. He's a damn fine actor, and this movie proves it beyond the shadow of a doubt.

Hail to the King, baby.