What happens when you throw together in a Winnebago a ragtag film crew, a born-again orthodox Jewish Elvis impersonator and an eccentric rabbi? Well, you get something called Schmelvis, a tangled road-trip documentary that purports to offer up insightful commentary on pop culture, personal identity and societal tolerance via an investigation into the King’s improbable Jewish lineage.
I was silently hoping for, if not necessarily expecting, some kitschy, Bubba Ho-Tep-style hijinks herein, but instead there is nothing but indulgent, self-aggrandizing navel-gazing, by the truckload. Written and directed by Max Wallace and co-directed by Lewis Cohen, Schmelvis uses as its putative launching point a 1998 Wall Street Journal article that identifies the late Elvis Aron Presley’s maternal great-great-grandmother as Jewish — a fact that would therefore make him Jewish too. After hiring a no-nonsense New York private eye, Steve Rambam, to suss out a few tantalizing morsels of air-quote fact, the creative team behind the film then balks at his asking price for a “full field investigation” (that would be $25,000), instead deciding to hit the road and get to the bottom of matters themselves.
Even with a running time of only 76 minutes, Schmelvis wears out its welcome rather quickly. It does this chiefly by featuring its set-up to an untoward degree; in addition to the bit with Rambam, we see producer Evan Beloff meet with and hire Wallace, hit up family as investors and talk about how they don’t know where to start in their quest. We get it, fellas — you’re occupational water-treaders who think it would be cool to be “filmmakers.” The fact that Schmelvis, which premiered at the Toronto Jewish Film Festival in 2002, has allegedly been shown at over 75 festivals around the world speaks chiefly to the proliferation of local and regional niche cinematic showcases rather than any universally embraceable qualities on the part of the movie itself. This is a yawner, through and through.
Housed in a regular Amray case, and presented in widescreen with a 5.1 surround sound audio track, Schmelvis comes with a feature-length audio commentary track from producer Beloff — the creative father of the film — and Rabbi Rueben Poupko. In true delusional fashion, the pair point up frequent comparisons to Seinfeld and “the Larry David show,” while also waxing philosophical about how they set out to find prejudice and preconceptions in middle America, only to discover that they were the most prejudicial. The only other supplemental extra consists of two scrollable pages of excerpts from the Schmelvis book. To purchase the movie via Amazon, click here. D- (Movie) C (Disc)