What do you get when you cross Elvis and Nixon? The psychobilly answer is Mojo Nixon. Otherwise, it’s a new movie based on the 1970 meeting between Elvis Presley and President Nixon. I call it Elvis v Nixon: Dawn of Thrustice.
It’s a strange conceit, made stranger still by the casting of Michael Shannon as Elvis. And I mean late-career off-the-deep-end barbiturate-guzzling Elvis. And while you’ll find better Elvis lookalikes down Blackpool Pier, Shannon nails his quirky mannerisms and commanding presence. Kevin Spacey is equally engaging as Nixon, in the 37th president’s 37th movie portrayal. They may be two of the most impersonated men in American pop-culture, but you can’t take your eyes off either performance.
The meeting itself is largely speculative and rather fun, if somewhat disposable. “Looks a little like my place,” Elvis remarks as he strides into the White House. Initially talking at cross-purposes, the President and the King soon find common political ground; they’re both men digging in their heels against the tide of progress. Presley “loves guns; hates The Beatles” and tells Nixon that he fears the young are being brainwashed by communists and destroyed by drugs, which is ironic considering Elvis himself was popping so many prescription pills by this point that he carried the PDR around with him for ease of reference.
The film doesn’t really seek to explore whether it was communism or irrelevance that he feared, or if he was just completely mad. This feels like something of a missed opportunity. It’s neither as funny nor as weird as it seems to promise, without much in the way of directorial style. But the music, costumes and performances are sufficient in a film where body language and sideburns speak such volumes. Elvis & Nixon won’t be always on my mind, but it’s alright mama.