Combustible Celluloid
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With: Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville, Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Sky Ferreira, Tracy Letts, Tate Donovan, Ashley Benson, Dylan Penn, Ritchie Montgomery, Danny McCarthy, Ian Hoch, Jeff Caperton
Written by: Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal, Cary Elwes
Directed by: Liza Johnson
MPAA Rating: R for some language
Running Time: 86
Date: 04/25/2016

Elvis & Nixon (2016)

3 Stars (out of 4)

White House Rock

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Though Elvis & Nixon isn't much more than a novelty, this weird bit of history largely succeeds thanks to a gentle blend of humor and respect, and an earnest attempt to understand what made these titans tick.

In 1970, a photo was taken of Elvis Presley meeting President Richard Nixon, which became the most requested item in the National Archives. This is the story of what might have happened. The most popular entertainer in the world, Elvis (Michael Shannon) decides he wants to serve his country by becoming at agent-at-large for the Narcotics Bureau.

He sends a letter to the president (Kevin Spacey), requesting a meeting. After the manipulations of Elvis's pals (Alex Pettyfer and Johnny Knoxville) and Nixon's aides (Colin Hanks and Evan Peters), Nixon reluctantly agrees. Weirdly, though Nixon has no use for rock-n-rollers, it turns out that he and Elvis have quite a bit in common. And an unbelievable meeting becomes slightly more believable.

Though they are certainly two of the greatest actors alive, neither Kevin Spacey nor Michael Shannon completely transform into their roles, though they do manage good vocal inflections. Instead, they both find a kind of essence, dialing into what these characters' potential wants or fears. They wind up commanding the screen as effortlessly as their real-life counterparts might have.

The screenplay, co-written by actor Cary Elwes and former husband-and-wife Joey and Hanala Sagal, includes a little padding to bulk the slight story up to even 86 minutes. It's mainly in a subplot involving the Jerry Schilling character, and the bland Alex Pettyfer doesn't add anything to the role. But Colin Hanks adds some humor in his supporting part, and director Liza Johnson adds an overall sense of whimsy and good cheer.

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