If you have any doubt that Elvis Presley once visited the White House and wrangled an almost hour-long visit with President Richard Nixon in the Oval Office, go to Google, type “Elvis Nixon photo,” and the truth, in all of its un-Photoshopped glory, will appear for you to gawk at.

The story, as told in the mostly factual, but comically Hollywoodized “Elvis & Nixon,” presents an Elvis who was kind of down on himself and his circumstances in late 1970. Success had come and gone, and even returned in his big comeback of a couple years earlier. But now he was something of a lost soul, adrift in the myth he had become. At the film’s start, he’s alone in Graceland, watching three different TV screens, unhappy with how he perceives today’s youth is behaving.

He decides to go to Washington, D.C., to see if he and his celebrity status can be of any assistance to the government. But, and here’s the first hint that the film is going veer into comedic territory, once at the Memphis airport, preparing, for the first time, to board a plane without his posse or management around him, he changes his mind and heads to L.A. to visit an old pal. He’ll head back east later that same night, landing in D.C. in the early morning hours, bearing a long, earnest, hand-scrawled letter to Nixon about how he, as an entertainer, can help get the country back on the right track if he’s allowed to become a Federal undercover agent.

Yes, all of this happened (well, no one’s sure about the three TV sets). What nobody really knows is what was going on in Elvis’ head as he crisscrossed the country. But that letter did make it into the hands of White House staffer Bud Krogh, then went up the chain to all of the right people, and before the day was over, allowed Elvis to walk through the Oval Office doors.

The film gives us Michael Shannon as Elvis, playing him as relaxed, yet full of self-doubt, and kind of clueless to the ways of the world. Shannon, who usually finds roles as disturbed characters, doesn’t even attempt either a physical or vocal Elvis impersonation, though he does murmur one convincing “Thank you, thank you very much.” But we also get the treat of Kevin Spacey’s Nixon. Spacey, a gifted impersonator, goes for and nails the stooped-over upper body, the stiff gait, the voice and, most important, the attitude of Richard Nixon, from the short temper to the cursing.

The film is fun and funny and, truth be told, a little short on substance, with a few too many side stories about the lead-up to the big meeting. But it also touches onto a couple of sincere issues: Elvis’ concern that the public has no idea of who he is as a person; the Nixon camp’s worry about the president’s image among the youth of America.

But before this can be given much thought by viewers, there’s Elvis, being ushered through the White House corridors, with his own bodyguards (Alex Pettyfer and Johnny Knoxville), led by an excitable Bud Krogh (Colin Hanks), unaware that a grumpy Nixon has already demanded that this rock ’n’ roller be in and out of his office in five minutes.

The infamous recording devices wouldn’t be installed in the White House till a couple of months later, so no one will ever know exactly what was said between the president and the King. But it’s a safe bet that Elvis didn’t, as the film suggests, stick out his hand and say, “Mr. President, put it right there.” But history shows that he did indeed get his “undercover” badge. Yes, this is a ridiculous story, but a lot of it really did happen.

— Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.

“Elvis & Nixon”
Written by Joey Sagal, Hanala Sagal, Cary Elwes; directed by Liza Johnson
With Michael Shannon, Kevin Spacey, Colin Hanks, Alex Pettyfer, Johnny Knoxville
Rated R