Movie Review: Elvis and Nixon

“Who set up this bullshit?” Kevin Spacey as President Richard Nixon snaps at one point to his beleaguered advisors in “Elvis and Nixon.” The “bullshit” in question is a meeting with Elvis “The King” Presley, then (1970) the most popular pop star at the time. In fact, it is Elvis (Michael Shannon) who takes a plane with his longtime friend (Alex Pettyfer) to Washington, D.C. with the express goal of meeting the President – though he does not actually have an appointment. Why? Well, it’s simple. Michael/Elvis believes that the youth of America are getting themselves up to all sorts of sobering shenanigans, such as smoking marijuana, if you can imagine. But since Michael is a proud, upstanding American, he’s willing and eager to assume the mantle of Federal Agent at Large to help. He’s even up for going undercover. After all, he has plenty of movie experience under his belt, and already has his very own firearms. This Elvis is patriotic fellow, totally undaunted at the possibility that the President might not actually have the time to meet with him.

But initially when his advisors float the idea of the meeting, Nixon/Kevin is not receptive. Yes, he knows who Elvis is, but until his staff cannily up the stakes by telling his daughter about the possibility of the star meeting her dad, he resists. Eventually, however, he relents, and Michael and Alex (who is on borrowed time as he needs to fly home soon and meet his girlfriend’s father – oh, and ask her to marry him) find themselves in the Oval Office being briefed – and doing some briefing themselves. No nicking the President’s very own bottle of Dr. Pepper, and no touching the Commander-in-Chief’s M&Ms, no matter how tempting. Oh, and bringing firearms into the White House is not really a good idea either, although they make an exception because well, he’s Elvis – someone who at this point in history is capable of reducing every woman around him into babbling mush. Michael – though he looks downright gaunt here – is a charming Elvis, who even manages to beguile Nixon, played here by Kevin as a potty-mouthed bundle of insecurities and passive-aggressive quirks. Upon being told that Michael knows karate, Kevin beckons his aide closer. “Do you think?” he asks with a straight face, “that I could take him?”

This is one of those films that came and went so fast where I live that it barely even said goodbye. I don’t know whether a initial lukewarm reception was responsible for it only being somewhat close for a single week, or if there were no real plans to promote it in the first place. But it’s worth spending an hour and a half to see, if you’re a fan of that period in history. My favorite movie Nixon, though, is still Dan Hedaya in 1999’s “Dick,” in which Michelle Williams and Kirsten Dunst play airheaded teens who stumble into the Watergate scandal when they wander away from a White House tour and are given the job of walking Checkers, Nixon’s dog, to distract them. But is “Elvis and Nixon” based on a true story? Yes, but it’s not known whether or not Elvis, after finally getting his badge, ever went undercover as a Federal Agent as Large. But anything’s possible.

 

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