I must preface this review by stating that I am a big Bruce Campbell fan. If you haven’t seen Army of Darkness or Evil Dead II, I can’t recommend them enough. Bubba Ho-tep is really a showcase for Bruce Campbell’s talent more than anything else; the plot is completely absurd.
The action centers around the Shady Rest Nursing Home in east Texas and its most famous resident, Elvis Presley (Campbell). The story is that Elvis tired of his fame and lifestyle and decided to switch places with Seymour Haff, an Elvis impersonator. All was going well in his new life until his trailer caught fire, destroying the contract that could allow him to go back to his previous life, and he fell off a stage during a concert, injuring his hip and sending him into a coma. He’s now seventy years old and waiting for the inevitable.
Strange things are afoot at the nursing home as resident after resident dies. The staff, of course, sees nothing strange in these events since the patients are basically transients as far as they’re concerned. Elvis and his friend John F. Kennedy (Ossie Davis) aim to get to the bottom of things. JFK was sequestered in this rest home after the staged assassination and was “dyed” black to further cover the plotters’ tracks.
The dynamic duo come to realize that there is a resurrected Egyptian mummy, nicknamed Bubba Ho-tep since it is dressed in schlocky cowboy duds, loose on the grounds and it must suck souls out the residents’ anuses in order to stay allive. They decide to take matters into their own hands because, as Elvis says, they’re not going to “let some foreign, graffiti writin’, soul suckin’, son of a bitch in an oversized cowboy hat and boots take [their] friend’s souls and shit ‘em down the visitors toilet!”
That’s about as weird of a plot as you can get and it really doesn’t work well. It’s got some really slow parts and it falls apart the more you think about it. There’s no overarching theme to the movie: it’s simply a vehicle for Bruce Campbell. I’m sure the producer and director would disagree, but that’s about the only thing this movie has going for it.
Campbell is at his acting best here. He’s playing a 70-year-old geezer who thinks—and probably is as far as the movie goes—he’s Elvis Presley. Most of the movie consists of him meandering around hallways in his walker contemplating what his life has become. Fully a third of the movie features the ersatz Elvis laying in his bed. It’s a huge bet as an actor to take on that sort of a role and Campbell nails it. I quickly started thinking that I was watching the real Elvis as a senior citizen: he played it exactly as I think an actual down-on-his-luck celebrity would act at the end of his life.
The movie is not particularly worth seeing unless you are a fan of Bruce Campbell. His acting carries the movie and is easily the best (and most nuanced) performance of his career. Without him, the movie simply would not work. The plot is contrived and incredible; there’s very little of value besides the excellent performances. Veteran actor Ossie Davis is excellent as the matter-of-fact JFK and Ella Joyce is more than adequate as the resident nurse.
It’s a very difficult film to classify, much like Army of Darkness. It’s got some very funny moments, but it’s not a comedy. There’s a mummy that eats souls (and evacuates their residue), but it’s not really a horror film. There’s a fight sequence, but the participants are a boot-wearing, ambling mummy, an old guy in a motorized wheelchair, and an old guy in a walker. It’s hard to say that that’s action. There are thrilling moments and dramatic moments. I guess we could call its genre sui generis.