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‘Agent Elvis’ turns the King into a secret agent in a surreal Adult Swim-style comedy

<i>Courtesy Netflix</i><br/>
Courtesy Netflix
"Agent Elvis" turns the King into a secret agent in a surreal Adult Swim-style comedy. Bertie (voiced by Niecy Nash)

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

Wedding the irreverence of Adult Swim to the kinetic animation style of “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse,” “Agent Elvis” is a psychedelic head trip that takes that old story about Elvis Presley’s fascination with the FBI and running (and jumping and kicking) with it. Produced with Priscilla Presley, it’s certainly weird, although given all the ’70s references, it’s frankly hard to envision for whom this is intended.

Matthew McConaughey clearly has a ball providing the voice of Elvis (doubling as one of the executive producers), who is already moonlighting as a butt-kicking vigilante when he’s enlisted to serve in a top-secret government spy program, known as The Central Bureau, all while still operating as a full-blown rock star, with all the perks and eccentricities that entails.

Working with a cynical agent named CeCe Ryder (Kaitlin Olson), who isn’t a big fan, Elvis’ entourage includes not only Priscilla (who voices herself) but his pal Bobby Ray (Johnny Knoxville), mother-figure Bertie (Niecy Nash) and a homicidal chimp culled from the space program, because once you’ve come this far on the bizarro scale, why not?

The highly stylized animation does bring a ’70s-retro “Viva Las Vegas” cool to the proceedings, and the asides to Presley’s career and music — including, for example, a nod to his 1968 comeback special — reflects how lovingly this has been assembled, with Priscilla and John Eddie credited as co-creators.

Still, the appeal of that is somewhat offset by the comically exaggerated violence and the too-conspicuous effort to be shocking.

Conversely, while that approach might play well with the audience that consumes such edgy animation, it’s less clear that demo will appreciate all the time “Agent Elvis” spends trafficking in broad satire of famous or notorious figures of the period, including Howard Hughes, Charles Manson, Timothy Leary and Richard Nixon, with whom Presley appeared in a 1970 photo that inspired its own 2016 movie, “Elvis & Nixon.”

Throughout, “Agent Elvis” revels in a Tarantino-like attitude when it comes to rewriting history, while portraying Elvis as a bit of a lunatic, sure, but also someone who can certainly handle himself when the going gets tough.

In one sense, the series comes at a propitious time, when the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll — who has never really left the building, even 46 years after his death — has become a more integral part of it, most recently due to the Oscar-nominated movie and the death of his daughter, Lisa Marie Presley.

“Agent Elvis” represents the kind of attention-getting flight of fancy in which Netflix can afford to indulge, especially given all the attractive names connected to it, setting aside the family drama surrounding Lisa Marie Presley’s estate.

As ideas go, though, this one feels too out-there for its own good. The streaming service couldn’t help falling in love with its potential and promotability, but not to be cruel, they probably should have labeled this pitch “Return to sender.”

“Agent Elvis” premieres March 17 on Netflix.

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