Possibly the funniest movie of 2016, Elvis & Nixon chronicles the true story of the meeting of two men from two entirely different worlds. There’s the superstar king of rock: Elvis (Michael Shannon) and the notorious Watergate Republican president: Nixon (Kevin Spacey). What two men could possibly say meeting each other will remain a mystery, but the film has a fun time filling in the blanks.
What we do know is that Elvis wanted to be named special agent-at-large so that he could go undercover and infiltrate drug rings. Besides being one of the most absurd ideas ever cooked up involving law enforcement, there is no such position. That doesn’t stop Elvis’s quest for a badge and he goes to absurd lengths to set up a meeting with Nixon.
Meanwhile, a subplot runs where Elvis’s close friend Jerry (Alex Pettyfer) tries to balance his friendship with Elvis with his relationship with his girlfriend. This subplot proves to be the weakest element of the film and easily could have been dropped. As it stands, it’s a poor attempt to put an everyman in a story that doesn’t need one. Leave the wacky leads to carry the film, not a boring vessel character.
It’s also hard to look past the fact that Michael Shannon and Kevin Spacey are playing the lead roles. You’re always conscious that you are watching actors playing roles as neither is able to melt fully into the role. Shannon fares a little better because he has the hair and sunglasses to hide behind, but Spacey is left looking a lot like Kevin Spacey. He gets the voice and mannerisms down, but there is no effort to make him look like Nixon.
Luckily, the rest of the film is golden. The jokes mostly revolve around Elvis doing ridiculous things, most of them involving firearms, and Nixon being a general grump. It’s a simple film with not much beyond the surface, but in terms of entertainment and laughs, this film is one of the year’s best. It’s the funniest film this side of What We Do in the Shadows.
© 2016 James Blake Ewing