Droll and delusional, the title character of “The Last Elvis” will win over plenty of fans to Armando Bo’s parable of obsession and denial. John McInerny delivers not only a deft vocal impersonation of the King, but also a dour take on an everyday hombre whose fixation is getting the better of him in this Argentine entry. Pic will skew arthouse, but Elvis fascination runs deep enough to potentially draw hardcore Presley-ites.
Bo, who co-wrote “Biutiful” with Nicolas Giacobone and helmer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (an associate producer here), maintains a faux-sober attitude throughout, which makes the premise seem almost plausible. The pudgy Carlos Guttierez (McInerny) is an Elvis impersonator in Buenos Aires, a city apparently awash in celebrity lookalikes: There’s a Gene Simmons here, a Barbra Streisand there. Whether at his 9-to-5 assembly-line job or sausage-packed into a besequined Elvis jumpsuit and entertaining rooms full of fans, Carlos fairly struts, so sure is he of inhabiting not just the spirit but the body of the late rock star.
The downside to his delusion, if that’s what it is, is the loss of his family — a failed marriage with Alejandra (Griselda Siciliani) and estrangement from his daughter, named of course, Lisa Marie (Margarita Lopez). But when Alejandra has a car accident, Carlos’ plans (we’re not sure what they are, but they’re big) are put on hold while he attends to his daughter and reaquaints himself with fatherhood.
Everything about Carlos seems calculated and determined, though he’s never portrayed as absurd or foolish. What gives Carlos his dignity is McInerny’s real musical gift; the character may stray into Glen Campbell territory occasionally, but he sounds like Elvis and knows how to sing. In that sense, he’s not quite a victim of his own delusion, merely a man whose talents are misdirected in a way that says something critical about the culture and cloned entertainment.
Just as the film seems about to end with a reconciliation, it goes west — to Memphis, where it begins an entirely new chapter. What saves this bittersweet coda from feeling tacked-on is the aura of mystery that Bo has wrapped around his hero from the beginning. Is he for real? Is he really crazy? With the exception of the very last shot, which will generate doubt among suspicious minds, “The Last Elvis” is a solid, likable and consistently engaging fantasy.
Production values, especially the Elvis songs performed by McInerny, are tops.