Review: Butler did it — ‘Elvis’ revival grows as it goes

Let’s cut to the chase: The new biopic “Elvis” is worthwhile, foremost for Austin Butler’s genuine and charismatic portrayal of rock ‘n’ roll king Elvis Presley.

The movie’s hodge-podge whirlwind of a first half gives way to a more serious, conversational second hour and fatal finish, totaling a tolerable 155 minutes.

Baz Luhrmann, who knows something about directing music-imbued movies thanks to “Moulin Rouge!” and the overpraised “Chicago,” infuses “Elvis” with creativity and flair. All too often, however, imagination leads to self-indulgence behind the camera and bloating in front of it.

Amid this spectacle’s assault on our senses, the filmmakers take care to lay the groundwork of Presley’s background, his upbringing, inspirations and motivation.

Unfortunately for viewers, the prologue includes one Colonel Tom Parker (Tom Hanks with a double-chin and balloon belly), the greedy “Snowmen” showman who claimed to put Presley on the map.

The picture actually begins toward the story’s end, with Parker – an ailing senior citizen – shown in a Las Vegas hospital bed. It was a curious choice to allow the self-centered promoter to narrate the tale with a defensive tone: “There are some who’d make me out to be the villain…”

Our focus turns to the two-decade partnership between Presley and Parker, a dubious decision by the quartet of screenwriters, who may as well have titled the picture “Elvis & Tom.”

What we don’t have too much of is the hero’s parents, Gladys (Australian Helen Thomson, a capable replacement for Maggie Gyllenhaal) and Vernon (Richard Roxburgh). Presley’s first girlfriend Dixie is but an afterthought.

Shuffled into this deck, along with the colonel’s references to carnivals, are many Black musicians – namely B.B. King, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Little Richard – who inspired the young man from Memphis; he would soon turn gospel and Beale Street tunes into hits of his own, thanks in part to Memphis-based Sun Studio.

Insofar as the heart of “Elvis” is set during the late 1950s and ‘60s, real-life news takes hold: Army service (Presley was stationed in Germany) and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr., President John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. During one discussion amid the cultural sea change, Presley tells the undeterred Parker: “It has everything to do with us.”

While overseas, Presley met future wife Priscilla (Olivia DeJonge), who would ultimately give birth to daughter Lisa Marie.

The rest of the singer’s well-documented layers are unpeeled: His years of residency performing at the International hotel in Vegas; his drug addiction and subsequent divorce; his falling out with Parker with an eye toward touring abroad.

For my money, the Oscar race for best actor begins and ends with Butler; the hype about his touching, convincing turn is justified. The opposite goes for hammy Hanks and his inexplicable accent, a hybrid of Colonel Klink and Forrest Gump that becomes a constant source of irritation. Even when he tones it down, the carnival-barker colonel tips the scale, not unlike Marlon Brando in “The Godfather.”

Luhrmann can’t sit still in the director’s chair while employing jump-cuts, swirling cameras, close-ups, zoom-in techniques and – worst of all – too many slow-motion shots.

As usual, Luhrmann’s cinematic style is a blessing and curse. He is indubitably skilled, but with his panache comes excess. Through it all, Butler emerges unscathed.