CUSACKATHON DAY FIVE:
What a career John Cusack has had. After one, two, three, four days of watching his films, I still have eight left. And this is only counting ones in which he has a starring role, mind you. The best may not be yet to come, but there are a few gems hidden among the dreck. Here we go, for one last day stuffed to the brim with Cusack.
From One Crazy Summer, to American Sweethearts, to The Contract, I watched a lot of awful John Cusack films this year, and his career doesn’t seem to be on an upward slope. So when I was told that the horror movie he made with Sam Jackson was actually kind of fun, I was skeptical to say the least.
“I’m here to talk to you about the ‘Hold-onto-your-butts-with-a-vengeance-because-I-want-these-mother-fucking-snakes-off-this-mother-fuckin’-royale-with-cheese’ initiative.”
As it turns out, 1408 boasts a solid performance from Cusack, and a story that forgoes giving any shits in favor of kicking ass. Cusack plays a skeptic who has made his living selling books listing his all time top ten haunted hotels. Against the stern advice of proprietor Jackson, he checks into room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel, and all sorts of crazy shit starts happening.
To talk any more about this film would only serve to spoil what amounts to a fun, if only fun, cinematic experience.
MARTIAN CHILD, 2007:
John Cusack is sci-fi author David Gordon (Rob’s successful older brother perhaps?) who, despite telling the social worker in charge of placement that he doesn’t think he is fit to take care of a child, ends up fostering a child. And emotional surprise! The kid is a “weirdo” who claims to be from Mars. Wacky! Cute!
Parenting involves a lot of Lucky Charms.
Cusack lets the kid steal all of his belongings, tells him that there are “no rules,” and generally goes along with the child’s Martian delusion. Cusack’s aggravatingly bad parenting skills are, for much of the movie, completely ignored. Great job! You care, and that’s good enough; your actions have no consequences. Thankfully there is a scene near the end where The West Wing‘s Richard Schiff tells Cusack off, otherwise I’d have been pulling my hair out all through the credits.
This kid has some serious issues, but the focus is perpetually on Cusack. Emotional, but shallow, I cannot recommend this movie to anyone who is not gagged and bound in front of a television stuck on the Hallmark channel.
Rain: on a film set. Moving on.
GRACE IS GONE, 2007:
A simple but genuinely engaging film, Grace is Gone provides John Cusack with an opportunity to show off acting muscles I never knew he had. He plays Stanley Phillips, a male war bride working in a warehouse to support his two daughters. The news of his wife Grace’s death in the line of duty sends him into a mental spiral and onto a desperation-fueled road trip with his daughters.
It’s a little like American Beauty‘s Kevin Spacey collided with Chevy Chase.
It is refreshing to see Cusack in a role that embraces his age. He isn’t Lloyd Dobler anymore, and that’s just fine. It is about as tasteful and simple a movie as could be made about the Iraq war. To make up for this, he immediately went out and made War, Inc.
WAR, INC., 2008:
There is no phrase to properly describe War, Inc., but “bewilderingly horrible, overstuffed clusterfuck” comes reasonably close. This appears to have been a pet project of writer/star Cusack. Its attempts at satire are defeated by the incessantly weird bullshit that fills the movie. One moment you feel like it’s trying to say something deep about capitalism, the next, Vice President Aykroyd is videoconferencing on a toilet, and Cusack is taking shots of hot sauce.
Or pretending he’s talking to the Architect from The Matrix: Reloaded.
There is too much going on, but not enough going on upstairs. The jokes take off, but cannot land. Any movie where John Cusack fights Sir Ben Kingsley in the back of a garbage truck must either be amazing or terrible. I’m still too perplexed to put in my verdict, but I’m leaning towards, “What?”
The verdict is also still out on whether that’s sleet or rain.
Muddled and confusing, this animated flick takes place is a world of evil scientists, where all evil assistants belong to a subspecies of igors, all of whom are named Igor. Cusack plays Igor, an igor who wants to be a scientist. It’s all very confusing.
So, in Igor, Igor the igor creates a franken-lady named Eva. Due to an odd plot point involving brainwashing and an episode of Inside the Actor’s Studio, Eva wants to be a diva. Heaven help any child who tries to make sense of all this without a working knowledge of James Lipton.
He’s a pivotal plot point.
I was so bewildered by the end that in my dazed stupor I was unable to see the irony in a choir of blind children singing “I Can See Clearly Now.” I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this film.
Amazingly, in a world condemned to permanent cloud cover, the only rain scene is in a flashback.
As far as explosion porn goes, this movie is amazing. It isn’t really a John Cusack movie as much as it is a things-blowing-up-all-the-time movie, but he serves the film well as its central character.
If explosions were a person, they would be billed above Cusack.
It might be worth noting that after War, Inc. and Igor, this was the third film in a row to feature a government conspiracy. Of all the things that befall Cusack in this film, he manages to avoid the rain. He does, however, get submerged in water near a giraffe.
HOT TUB TIME MACHINE, 2010:
Four men travel back in time to the eighties in what promised to be a hilarious romp through time travel and eighties teen comedy conventions. By all accounts, this movie should have been a blast. Sadly, it didn’t turn out that way. While I find it almost acceptable as a time travel movie, it is rarely funny. An unfortunate thing for a comedy.
At least the cast got to hang out in a hot tub.
One thing is certain. This role was tailor-made for Cusack. His character starts the movie middle-aged, being broken up with in a very High Fidelity way. He then winds up back in the eighties, the scene of Cusack’s early triumphs (The Sure Thing, Better off Dead). If he had conducted himself differently then, would his life be better off now? The movie starts to touch on issues like that, but just when you think it might take a turn towards genuine, character-based humor, some Eighties Bullshit happens.
It’s One Crazy Summer all over again.
It’s all very sad. It is also worth noting that at no point in the theatrical release does Cusack get rained on. I cannot speak for the unrated edition. I don’t have the heart to brave it.
THE RAVEN, 2012:
Well, here we are, up to the present, yet Cusack is acting a bit like his young self again. He’s on a mad chase to win over the woman he loves against her father’s wishes. Oh, except this time he’s Edgar Allan Poe…
Big head and a bitchin’ beard!
…and he owns a raccoon…
He’s feedin’ it human hearts!
…and he’s solvin’ crimes!
But sometimes he gets tired.
This is kind of fun the first time around, but having seen it in theaters last April, I can tell you that it doesn’t hold up to a second viewing. It is with pleasure however, that I note, for the last time…
It rains on John Cusack in this film.