“Elvis” has entered the theaters, but in a package that often recalls the excesses associated with his Vegas-residency years: Looking bloated, gaudy and at times bordering on self-parody. Those missteps, courtesy of director Baz Luhrmann and an ill-used Tom Hanks, squander Austin Butler’s brilliant moments in the title role, which deserve a much better movie.
Luhrmann’s most pertinent credits include the visually striking musical “Moulin Rouge!,” which offers obvious stylistic parallels. Yet employing the rambunctious, surreal aspects of that 2001 romantic fantasy clashes with the demands of a biographical film, drowning the substance with fast-paced and frenetic editing that blunts the emotion of Butler’s spot-on performance, which has been embraced by Presley’s family and would be a showstopper if only given room to breathe.
Although Elvis Presley’s life has been documented in a variety of projects, the main precedent here seems to be a 1993 TV movie, “Elvis and the Colonel,” which focused on the relationship between the star and his manager/handler Col. Tom Parker, casting Beau Bridges as the latter. A colorful and shadowy figure, Parker’s control prompted allegations of serious financial shenanigans that were only exposed after Presley’s death in 1977.
Here, Luhrmann (who shares script credit with three others, nearly a decade after his last film “The Great Gatsby”) makes the near-fatal error of primarily telling the story from Parker’s point of view. That places the emphasis on a heavily made-up Hanks – adopting an accent that can at best be described as punishing – who serves as the narrator and directly addresses the audience.
“I am the man who gave the world Elvis Presley,” Parker boasts, adding,…