"What do you think I'm doing with this movie?" director Eugene Jarecki asks the chief of his road crew some 40 minutes into The King, a restless documentary bafflement about pretty much everything but most specifically about driving Elvis Presley's Rolls-Royce across America and wondering what went wrong, with Elvis, with America, and, in this one revealing moment, with The King itself.
"I don't know what the hell you're doing," says the road crew chief.
Whatever it is, it looks like fun: Jarecki crams musicians (M. Ward, John Hiatt, the Handsome Family) into the back seat and lets them play while he tools about Tupelo, Memphis, Nashville and then America at large. Interviewees wax on about Elvis and all that he can be made to represent, but usually only in context-free, free-associative clips that rarely run more than 10 or 15 seconds. Here's James Carville, Greil Marcus, Chuck D, Emmylou Harris, Immortal Technique and Van Jones, who really seems as if he'd rather be talking about something else. "The cultural imperialism, the military imperialism, the economic imperialism of the United States is the global fact of the last century," Jones says, "and Elvis Presley is at the center of the center of all of that."
Don't expect to see Jones actually make, like, a case, though. The Rolls rolls slowly, but the film floors it, speeding relentlessly from topic to topic. He's got to show us a 2016 Bernie Sanders rally; Ashton Kutcher musing about fame; Alec Baldwin vowing, in the run-up to that election, that Donald Trump will not win; footage of nuclear tests; a history of falling wages in Detroit. The through line has left the building.