Elvis & Nixon
dir Liza Johnson
prd Cassian Elwes, Holly Wiersma
scr Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal, Cary Elwes
with Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Colin Hanks, Johnny Knoxville, Evan Peters, Sky Ferreira, Tracy Letts, Tate Donovan, Ashley Benson, Kamal Angelo Bolden, Ahna O'Reilly
release US 22.Apr.16, UK 24.Jun.16
16/US 1h26
Elvis & Nixon
Caught on camera: Spacey and Shannon

pettyfer hanks knoxville
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Elvis & Nixon Based on a real meeting between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon, this is an amusing movie that plays merrily with the absurdity of a meeting between these notorious men. It's essentially little more than a chance for Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey to riff on these icons, while the solid supporting cast swirls around in their wake. So it's a shame that there isn't more to it.

Just before Christmas in 1970, Elvis (Shannon) becomes frustrated by scenes of student protests on the streets of Washington DC, so he flies to Los Angeles to collect his best friend Jerry (Pettyfer), then to the capital to offer his services to Nixon (Spacey) as a special undercover FBI narcotics agent. Although it's clear that all he really wants is the federal badge. They are joined by Elvis' colleague Sonny (Knoxville) as they negotiate with Nixon's closest advisors (Hanks and Peters). And when the two men meet, they get along better than expected.

The premise has an enjoyably surreal quality to it that almost makes the film feel like an improvised comedy sketch. It's hard to imagine these two figures meeting, let alone having a conversation as absurd as this one. And both Shannon and Spacey play their scenes in a prowling way that centres on throwaway laughs. Thankfully, neither goes for a full-on impersonation, relying instead on wit and vocal mannerisms to bring these men to life.

This approach makes their interaction entertaining, mainly because it feels fictional. But then the scenes that don't feature other characters must be fully imagined. Of the supporting cast, Pettyfer, Hanks and Peters offer some very nice moments as guys loyal to their friend or boss. Hanks also adds a few hilariously giddy touches. By contrast, Knoxville's smirking goofball seems out of place, barely registering as a real person.

While the film is amusing enough to hold the attention and occasionally elicit a burst of laughter, it's also oddly forgettable, revealing little about these men that the one photo taken of this meeting didn't already tell us. So the script feels relentlessly superficial, relying on standard gags about both of them. The only time it scratches the surface is in a few comments on how it feels to be in the media spotlight. And in the end, the most engaging element of the story is the warm friendship between Elvis and Jerry, which would clearly make a more interesting film.

cert 15 themes, language 6.Jun.16

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