This was the most unique request I’ve had yet. Geoff asked that I watch Bubba Ho-Tep … with Bruce Campbell’s “The King” commentary on the audio.
I had watched the movie a few years ago, and this doesn’t really count as watching it again, since I couldn’t hear any of the actual dialogue. So I’m reviewing Campbell’s commentary more than I am the movie itself.
Bruce Campbell is known for his off-the-wall commentaries, but doing one in character as Elvis is probably the weirdest, as least conceptually. It is also appropriate for a movie described thusly on the IMDB:
Bubba Ho-tep tells the "true" story of what really did become of Elvis Presley. We find Elvis (Bruce Campbell) as an elderly resident in an East Texas rest home, who switched identities with an Elvis impersonator years before his "death", then missed his chance to switch back. Elvis teams up with Jack (Ossie Davis), a fellow nursing home resident who thinks that he is actually President John F. Kennedy, and the two valiant old codgers sally forth to battle an evil Egyptian entity who has chosen their long-term care facility as his happy hunting grounds.
I won’t say much more about the movie … like I say, I was watching this time for the commentary. But I remember one thing we thought when we first watched it was, “what is Ossie Davis doing in a goofy movie like this?” Especially since the budget was only $1 million. Davis had received a lifetime achievement award from the Screen Actors Guild only a year earlier, and he was one of the most respected actors of the 20th century. On the commentary, “The King” notes this as well, asking the same question: that’s Ossie Davis, what’s he doing in this?
The idea behind the commentary (this gets very meta) is that Elvis (played by Campbell) watches Bubba Ho-Tep for the first time, offering off-the-cuff comments while eating popcorn and drinking “white tea”. In the movie, Campbell also plays Elvis, but the Elvis of the movie is a character, while the Elvis of the commentary is supposedly the real person. “Commentary Elvis” doesn’t think much of this Bruce Campbell fellow, although he spends more time faulting director Coscarelli and Joe Lansdale, who wrote the short story on which the film is based, for the film’s many inaccuracies. Some of The King’s complaints are pointed. For instance, when the Elvis character speaks with poor grammar, The King tells us that he knew his grammar, but that the film makers seemed to think a Southerner wouldn’t know such niceties.
The King talks a lot about his 33 movies (with “insights” like telling us Harum Scarum had some scary parts). He complains a lot about the nudity, graphic horror, and pretty much anything that wouldn’t fit in a family movie, reminding us more than once that he never did any of that stuff in his movies. “Why do they have to show that?” is a common refrain, usually accompanied by an example of how they would have done it in his day. His commentary is occasionally interrupted when his cell phone rings, at which point we get to listen to his side of mundane conversations before he says he needs to hang up and get back to doing the commentary.
An hour and a half of this gets a bit tiresome, but because Campbell convinces you that it’s Elvis doing the commentary, even the lesser parts have their moments. It really does sound about like what an Elvis commentary track would offer: eating popcorn, talking about Ann-Margret, singing a few bars of a new song he’s working on, taking phone calls, telling stories about the making of his many films. And since the commentary isn’t presented as “here’s how we did this” but instead assumes The King is watching for the first time, it has a casual feel, like sitting around with Elvis watching a movie. He regularly asks what genre the movie is (what is this, a comedy, a drama, a horror film, a foreign film) and he keeps hoping for “action”.
The movie relies largely on its willingness to be goofy, the presence of Ossie Davis, and the cult stature of Bruce Campbell. Your tolerance for Bubba Ho-Tep depends on how much you buy into the Campbell cult (my wife is a big Bruce Campbell fan). But Bruce Campbell fans will also need to hear The King’s commentary. 7/10.