For those who aren't aware of what the idea is, it's simple: an aged Elvis and John F. Kennedy are in a rundown retirement home, and end up fighting a Mummy who is stealing the souls from the other elderly residents. Neither Elvis or Kennedy died when history says. Instead, Elvis swapped his life with an Elvis impersonator, who died instead, and JFK's brain is currently in a jar, kept alive by a battery, while the Kennedy lives out his life in a body dyed black and with sand in his skull instead of brain. It is, like I said, a nice idea from Lansdale.
(Speaking of which, am I the only one who finds Lansdale's fiction misogynist in a distasteful way? Not all of it mind you--I quite like the Hap and Leonard novels, but even in them, you can make the same claim, though it's not as distasteful as it gets in some of his other work. In the case of the novella 'Bubba Ho-Tep', I know that part of the problem is that Elvis was characterised as a misogynist , but it just left an unpleasant taste when I was reading the story. As if I had seen this angle from Lansdale one to many times and I wanted something different.)
The only reason to go and watch Bubba Ho-Tep is Bruce Campbell. I've always liked Campbell. He has a nice presence on the screen, and he makes me laugh. What laughs I got from Bubba Ho-Tep came from Campbell's Southern, Elvis' drawl through the voice over and his interaction with the rest of the cast. My favourite bits mostly had to do with the growth on the end of his dick, but then I'm like that. But either way, loaded up with prosthetics, hobbling around on a walker, Campbell gives an authentic performance as an old Elvis making plans with a black Kennedy to take out a Mummy.
The problem, however, is with the director and writer, Coscarelli. It's hard to imagine that a film like this could be dull, but that's exactly how the film has been put together. Words like bland and tepid and workman like spring to mind, and it's not enough of an excuse to say that the film was done on a small budget, and this is why. There are enough small films out there to demonstrate to people that you don't need a big budget to make something that bubbles with life and excitement and pulls the audience along. You would, indeed, think that a film about Elvis and JFK was ripe for that, but it's not the case. Indeed, the film feels very stationary, as if it was filmed by one camera put on a track and pushed around from scene to scene, but was never removed, raised, lowered, or anything. Say what you will, but Bubba Ho-Tep is one static looking film.
In addition, the plot never really bothers to develop the threat. The fault is there in Lansdale's novella, and I suppose if pressed I had no real problem with the answers appearing on toilet walls, and in JKF's books, but a little bit more in this area would have been nice. If the film had been more than bland in the way that it had been fitted together, then I don't think I would have worried about this, but since it leaves me with plenty of time to think (mostly as Campbell hobbles from room to room) I found myself ultimately dissatisfied with the explanations. I think I wanted Elvis and JFK to work for it a little more.
In addition, the subtitles didn't work Lansdale's novella... it didn't work in the film, either. They were just intrusive in the bubble of believability that the film was struggling to hold onto.
From reading this, I guess it would be fair to say that I didn't like Bubba Ho -Tep, but that's not quite true. I didn't mind it. You can pass a couple of hours with it and at the end you don't think much about it. But it could have been so much better without much effort. Everything was there for a really excellent little b-grade film, but instead, what I was left with was a bland little thing with an excellent performance from Bruce Campbell. (I must admit, I also wanted some Elvis music. But there, I suppose, budgets come into play.) Still, if you're interested in it, check it out, but I'd wait from someone you know to have the DVD so you can borrow it. It's a free movie. Only your time need be given.
However, I will say, that despite all this, I loved the final scene.