Movie Review: Death Race Las Vegas

VivaLasVegasThumbby Brad Nelson
Thang you very mush. Actually, the movie in question is Viva Las Vegas, but that’s not how the film ends. More about that grafted-on David Carradine/Sylvester Stallone ending later.

I continue my Ann-Margrock infatuation with this classic from 1964. Oh, and it also stars some dude named “Elvis Presley.” There’s so much sizzle on the screen you can be sure that what swivels in Vegas, sways in Vegas.

And I had no idea that a movie from the innocent Camelot Kennedy 60’s could so mess with one’s sexual identity as this one did. The guy (Elvis) is named Lucky and the chick (Ann-Margrock) is named Rusty. It took a while to get this straight, but eventually I did.

Elvis plays a hip, singin’, swingin’, girl-chasin’ (basically himself) dude who is a race car driver in need of an engine in order to make it into the big race. Ann-Margrock is the hip, singin’, swingin’, pistol-hot chick (basically herself) who is apparently so good looking, she’s one of the few females in all of the 60’s who wouldn’t drop everything to go out on a date with Elvis. But she’s Ann-Margrock!, so that’s believable. Who needs him? Ann, I’m emailing you my phone number. Give me a call.

VivaLasVegasPhotoThe plot (as is typical for an Elvis movie) is thin. It’s a prop for the music and the dancing, although with the help of Uncle Charley (William Demarest plays Margrock’s father), they do manage a good-enough story. And the singing and dancing are superb.

Margrock and Elvis combine in two scenes that are among the most memorable in any musical ever. There’s wonderful chemistry between the two in their feature duet “The Lady Loves Me” which is a catchy tune with lyrics that sparkle and is staged charmingly. It  doesn’t get any better than this and is worth the price of admission. There’s another great bit where The King comes to visit Margrock at her rehearsal and then — oh, who could have seen this coming? — a great song and dance number breaks out that is hot as smoke and peppy as Le Pew.

But what’s an Elvis movie without a little conflict? The chief rival for Margrock’s affection is the exceedingly boring Cesare Danova who plays Count Tickle-Me Elmo Mancini. I added the tickle-me part, but his character’s name really is Elmo. He plays a completely forgettable role and is a reminder that, as great as Elvis Presley is, you still need good actors around him. Luckily Elmo suffers a spectacular fiery crash in the “Death Race 2000” ending, so your viewer suffering is not in vane. (Did he survive the crash? What’s your opinion? Looked pretty nasty to me.)

VivaLasVegasPhoto2And that’s the really odd thing about this movie. It’s a light romantic musical for the first 9/10ths and then ends in a deadly car race reminiscent of the best of Speed Racer vs. the Car Acrobatic Team. With Uncle Charley flying in the chopper overhead watching it all (Now, Robbie, be sure to eat your peas!), I wondered if we had suddenly wandered into the set of “Apocalypse Now.”

There are spin-outs, wipeouts, and some really awful crashes. But cue the happy music, because right at the very end (the very very very end) the movie cuts abruptly from twisted wreckage and the finish line to wedding bells and rice-throwing as Margrock and Presley are shown leaving the church. “Juxtaposition,” “whiplash,” and “double-take” don’t begin to describe it.

For a moment there, I thought I had lost consciousness and missed about ten minutes of the movie. Bizarre. It’s like the filmmakers said “Oh my god. We’ve only 10 seconds left! Finish the movie! Hurry!”

Another fun part of the movie was the talent contest which both Rusty (the guy…no, the girl) and Lucky enter. A large section of the stage collapses and several contestants are horribly killed. Nope. Just kidding. But had the middle of this movie mirrored the ending, that would have made sense.

DeathRacePhotoBut the burning question of his movie is, Who do you think would win in a talent contest with both Ann-Margrock and Elvis Presley as contestants? I won’t spoil the finish. But it’s a close call. I had to give first prize to Margrock for the dancing and first prize to Elvis for the better song.

All in all, it was fun re-acquainting myself with all the horrible shades of aqua, green, and gold from that era. But the film itself is a visual 60’s feast not unlike the superb “Mad Men” series. The third star of this movie is clearly Las Vegas in all its kitschy 60’s million-watt splendor.

Viva Las Vegas is among Elvis’ most memorable movies. And, oh, there’s that girl with the red hair who can dance and sing a little. This is a rare combination of two of the most talented people of our time, and in their prime. I give this 3 alphabetic peanut butter and jelly sandwiches out of 5. If you missed the 60’s, you can get a crash course here. And if you want to see Ann-Margrock at her sexiest best (other than her amazing performance in Carnal Knowledge), don’t miss this. • (1410 views)

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Brad Nelson

About Brad Nelson

I like books, nature, politics, old movies, Ronald Reagan (you get sort of a three-fer with that one), and the founding ideals of this country. We are the Shining City on the Hill — or ought to be. However, our land has been poisoned by Utopian aspirations and feel-good bromides. Both have replaced wisdom and facts.

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