The first thought anyone will likely have with respect to the comedy Elvis & Nixon, which opens Friday (April 22), is who thought Michael Shannon should play the king of rock ‘n’ roll.
Let’s face it, Shannon is an actor of enormous talent, range and overall skill, but he doesn’t possess Elvis Presley’s pretty boy good looks. Nor does anyone know whether Shannon can sing.
Get over it. Who cares about the former and the latter doesn’t matter in this instance.
It takes but a few minutes of Shannon’s quirkiness as Presley to slide into this Amazon Studios (yes, that was just typed A-M-A-Z-O-N S-T-U-D-I-O-S) release. He comes with all of the early ’70s era trappings that the king flashed – sideburns, belt buckle the size of NASA satellite dishes and the wardrobe straight out of Las Vegas.
And Presley, who allegedly abused drugs in his lifetime, is tired of seeing his country to hell and a hand basket. Therefore, he decides the best way for him to do his part is to become an undercover federal agent at-large fighting the scourge of drugs and anti-Americanism from the inside. To do so, he reaches out to Pres. Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey), setting up one of the most hilarious, daffy experiences to grace the screen in a while.
Elvis’ enlists the help of good friends of his Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer) and Sonny (Johnny Knoxville) to aid him as he tries to navigate the maze to the president. For anyone who believes the juxtaposition of Nixon and Elvis next to one another in an infamous picture is a strange one, agreed.
But Liza Johnson, who directs from a screenplay from Joey and Hanala Sagal and Cary Elwes, crafts a dual, comedic character study of two men who rule their respective domains. They craft an 86 minute film around an approximately 20-minute meeting and it’s like watching worlds collide.
Shannon and Spacey milk it for everything its worth as Elvis, in pursuit of something he craves, must deal with something he likely hadn’t experienced since being drafted into the army – bureaucratic red tape. As for Nixon, dick though he may be, he has to contend with actually doing something on someone else’s terms, a troubling occurrence for someone with his known ego.
While certainly a comedy, Johnson mines Elvis & Nixon emotional depth that resonates. It’s subtle, yet heartfelt, but more importantly it complements the film’s other strengths.
Elvis & Nixon is a quirky comedy that deserves to find an audience.
Movie: Elvis & Nixon
Director: Liz Johnson
Cast: Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer
Studio: Amazon Studios
Rated: R for some language
Running time: 86 minutes
George’s rating: 3.5-of-5 stars
Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, Cleveland Cinemas, Fandango.com and MovieTickets.com