The curious chronology of movie careers - in association with the itinerant lifestyle of our performers - presents us this weekend with a solid film quiz question: which actor followed up an Oscar nominated turn in a prestige musical revival with the role of the man who killed Hitler and then the Bigfoot? The answer: Sam Elliott, who consolidates the comeback set in motion by last year's A Star is Born with a properly anchoring lead performance in cult-seeking missile The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot. The title of Robert D. Krzykowski's film suggests it may have been beamed in from the same bizarro dimension as Don Coscarelli's quietly cherishable 2002 romp Bubba Ho-Tep, in which a nursing-home Elvis and a black JFK teamed up to see off a rampaging Egyptian mummy, yet it's never quite that goofball, and may in fact bearer closer relation to all those Silver Screen-ready Britpics about oldtimers searching for a renewed lease of life. For most of the film's first act, we're simply watching Elliott, toothbrush-upright as ever as the former Army man Calvin Barr, pottering around his quiet suburban neighbourhood with dog in tow, being besieged by flashbacks to his days in uniform - when, as embodied by Poldark's Aidan Turner, he seemed to have far greater purpose - and generally biding time until either death or some new mission comes along. Bubba Ho-Tep smuggled some editorial on how we treat our seniors into a riotous horror-comedy; this does something comparable with the plight of America's veterans, and what we might learn from them.
Either way, Calvin Barr could do with a jolt of adrenaline, and so too could the film, which - though likeable - suffers from some laboured pacing, with at least a couple of early sequences seeming to take forever to get to their point. (It may be deliberate scene-setting, but still feels as though there's some doddering old coot behind the camera.) You may well be reassured, however, by Elliott's innately sympathetic presence. Without ever seeming to strain, the actor sketches out the lifetime's worth of regrets - the missed shots - weighing on this character's mind; he crafts an easy bond with barber brother Larry Miller (at one point, a crestfallen Miller asks "You let someone else cut your hair?"); summons barely concealed disgust for Ron Livingston as the Fed who shows up one night to enlist Barr to pursue Bigfoot through the Canadian wilds; and more generally plays the hokum required to keep this story moving with the exact same conviction as he did anything in Star. It sets us up for a final act that sets out like an analogue redo of the recent Predator rethink, pitting one furry-faced legend against another. Yet the outcome of that tussle is less important in the film's worldview than one final flashback in which Turner and Masters of Sex's Caitlin FitzGerald do poignant work as a small, everyday romantic tragedy waiting to happen - one that might linger over any man, no matter whom he's killed. I don't doubt that some will be thrown and disappointed by the fact this isn't really a film about the killing of Hitler and the Bigfoot, or at least where the killing of Hitler and the Bigfoot proves secondary to something more considered and sincere. Still, the movie's disarming charm derives from that fact - that it's so obviously not what anybody would expect going into a film called The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot, and evidently the handiwork of a filmmaker doing his darnedest to surprise us. Krzykowski pursues his own idiosyncratic path out of the bunker and into the woods; I hope we see a lot more from him than we have of late from the Bigfoot, or indeed from Hitler.
The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then the Bigfoot opens at London's Prince Charles Cinema today, ahead of its DVD release on May 6.