Back in September, I watched every movie John Cusack starred in during his pre-High Fidelity career, in a 72-hour period. Having had a couple months rest, on December 8th, I went back for eight more. You might say that the peak of Cusack’s career was the couple of years in which he made High Fidelity and Being John Malkovich. Well, we’ve been to the peak, now it’s time to toboggan down the slope.
AMERICA’S SWEETHEARTS, 2001:
Some people say that the best John Cusack movies involve Billy Crystal getting his genitals licked by a giant dog.
No they don’t.
Let’s start again. It is without a doubt that the high point of John Cusack’s career was the time he played a man who impaled his balls on a cactus, and was subsequently accused of masturbating while trying to remove the spines.
Sorry. One more go. Christopher Walken selects his projects carefully, and only appears in the finest of films.
You’ve caught me. I’m being deliberately facetious. Despite the fine contributions of Christopher Walken, America’s Sweethearts is an unpleasant film. Cusack and Zeta-Jones are the titular celebrity couple. Their romance is on the rocks, and unless publicist Crystal can save it, he’ll lose his job. While the first few minutes deliver an entertaining string of fake movie clips, the film soon becomes a very long Hyatt commercial, interspersed with a sappy love plot and out-of-place jokes.
Looks like an awesome fake movie, right?
SPOILER: You won’t get to see any of it.
As Billy Crystal has to get Cusack and Zeta-Jones back together, he books them rooms in the same Hyatt for a press junket. When it’s time to show the film within the film, they utilize the Hyatt’s state-of-the-art conference room for the screening. Did you know that certain Hyatt locations have private cabins available, right next to the golf course? Best line: “We’re at a Hyatt. People kill people at other chains, not at Hyatt!“
Cusack’s performance is serviceable, but the script is awful. His sister Ann makes a brief appearance (she suggests someone stay at a Hyatt). He can be seen in the rain twice.
Once in the movie…
And once in the movie within the movie (within the Hyatt).
Fate! Destiny! Random chance! These and these alone spell romance, if the world of Serendipity is to be believed. John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale meet by chance over a pair of gloves at Bloomingdale’s. They immediately feel sparks, and spend a wonderful romantic evening together. Aww. But trouble! They’re both in relationships! Whatever should they do? Cusack wants to exchange information, but that wouldn’t be romantic enough for Kate Beckinsale. No, no.
Tip: frozen rain is even more romantic than regular rain.
He writes his name and number on a five dollar bill. She writes hers in a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera. They send these items out into the world; if he finds the book, or she finds the bill, they will know that they are meant to be together.
Years later, on the verge of marrying their respective significant others, both Cusack and Beckinsale go on crazy quests to find each other. Can you guess what happens next?
If you guessed a trip to Bloomingdale’s, you would be correct. Bloomingdale’s!
They search and search. All logical attempts fail. Sad! What will they do now? Wait! Random chance brings them together! They were right to trust in fate all along! My stance of not taking action and letting fate bring me the things I want is completely validated by this movie!
That’s the problem. John Cusack is great. He’s romantic. He’s lovable. He’s relateable. He’s also sending out a horrible message. Too many people dismiss logic as unromantic without an aging Lloyd Dobler reinforcing the message.
In his directorial debut, Menno Meyjes (who penned the screenplay of The Color Purple) asks that all-consuming question: What if Hitler had been friends with a one-armed art critic John Cusack?
This movie really tries, you have to give it that. But, it is just too difficult to take John Cusack seriously when he’s walking around, talking with an American accent, with an angry emphatic young Hitler. Yes, it is fascinating that Hitler’s first career choice was art. No, John Cusack is not the actor to explore the issue with.
Aww. Hitler drew him a picture.
Noah Taylor gives a solid performance as little Hitler. The script dives into the roots of his frustration and anger in ways that had potential to be quite interesting. If we could take them seriously, that is. As any asshole on the internet can tell you, pulling Hitler into a discussion automatically hyper-charges it. Once Hitler is in the picture, anything you might want to say about art, or politics, or power, is obscured. “Oh, yeah, because that guy turns into Hitler later.”
The following is an actual quote from Max, I kid you not:
“You’re an awfully hard man to like, Hitler, but I’m gonna try.”
The movie tries, it really really tries. In the end, though, it is impossible to have any sympathy for a movie that allows John Cusack, in all seriousness, to say:
“Hitler, come on, I’ll buy you a glass of lemonade.”
I hope you never have to see Identity. Life can be unkind, and while you will, no doubt, suffer larger hardships, I hope that you are spared the 90-minute annoyance that is Identity. A few years ago, a bunch of people showed up at a motel in the middle of nowhere. Some of them start dying/getting killed. They were all strangely connected. Who was the killer? What was his secret? What does it have to do with the man with dissociative identity disorder waiting on death row?
I’m not going to tell you, because if you know the twist, and if you are ever forced to watch Identity, the only bearable element will have been removed. Without the feeble mystery (I figured most of it out before the halfway point), this film is, at best, a chore.
It rains throughout.
On John Cusack’s performance, there is not much to be said. I fear that, at this point in his career, Cusack is coasting. When talking to a potentially-serial-killing Ray Liotta, he is going to sound much the same as if he were talking to Kate Beckinsale or young Hitler. Nothing about his performance makes you wonder what is happening below the surface. He is Cusack. There is nothing about which to wonder. In a rom-com, this can be reassuring. I makes us comfortable. John Cusack is not a man whose face hides dark secrets. Sadly, it doesn’t work in a mystery/thriller.
To be continued… here.