Sunday, October 25, 2009

"I gave her my heart, she gave me a pen".

I saw the trailer for Roland Emmerich'a undoubtedly bloated, awful piece of disaster-porn shit 2012 for the second time a while ago. And this time, beyond the tedium I had experienced on my first viewing, my main thought was this: Remember when John Cusack was sorta cool? When he still had some credibility? When he made interesting choices and good films?
He did once.
He seemed edgier than most name actors his age. He was plainly intelligent – in an articulate, witty way. He seemed like the kind of guy who would read good novels and maybe even some poetry but also like sports. Well-rounded.
A man, but sensitive.
Remember that?

His early career went almost perfectly. He came through on the fringes of the Brat Pack. He was in the same movies and the same kinds of movies but held himself apart from the likes of Emilio Estevez and Judd Nelson, standing out in small parts and playing the lovable geek to near perfection in Rob Reiner's The Sure Thing (1985). He then coasted through much of the remainder of the decade, taking lead roles in mostly forgettable teen movies and smaller parts in dramas until Cameron Crowe made brilliant, immortal use of his oddly edgy appeal in Say Anything (1989). He followed that with some great work in The Grifters (Stephen Frears, 1990) and at that point in the early 90s he was as close to being an actual Movie Star as he has ever been. He showed that he had some depth by choosing to vary his work - taking small parts in Woody Allen films (Shadows & Fog (1991), Bullets Over Broadway (1994)) and auteur-directed projects (Map of the Human Heart (Vincent Ward, 1993), Bob Roberts (Tim Robbins, 1992) with more stock, mainstream material (True Colors (Herbert Ross, 1991), Money for Nothing (Ramon Menendez, 1993).

He never made the leap to the next level of stardom. He tends to get lost in ensembles in big films which he lacks the star power to headline, and I struggle to even remember him in so many of his films - The Road to Welville (Alan Parker, 1994), Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil (Clint Eastwood, 1997), The Thin Red Line (Terence Malick, 1998), Cradle Will Rock (Tim Robbins, 1999). Of course there was some success. For instance, he is brilliant in Being John Malkovich (Spike Jonze, 1999). But to really do his talents justice, he was forced to develop his own projects. Grosse Pointe Blank (George Armitage, 1997), which he co-wrote and co-produced is a made to measure vehicle for him: witty, urbane, just dark enough to be interesting, and playing off the nostalgia of his fanbase for those 80s teen roles. It wasn't much of a popular success, however. Nor was High Fidelity (2000, Frears), despite its successful twisting of Cusack's usual persona into a sort of cool geek everyman and adroit adaptation of Nick Hornby's novel.

Since 2000, however, it seems like Cusack has lost his radar. Maybe it happened before that. I remember reading an interview with him in the early 90s in which he was asked what was his least-favourite recent film. He replied that it was The Last Boyscout (Tony Scott, 1991), which was "fascist", among other things. Basically he claimed to hate it for its status as an empty summer blockbuster of the worst, most predictable kind. Setting aside my admiration for The Last Boyscout's hilarious Shane Black script and Bruce Willis at the height of his effortlessly smug megastardom, something about that interview always rubbed me up wrong. That feeling was worsened in 1997 when Cusack starred in Con Air (Simon West), an equally soulless, empty, even more "fascist" action blockbuster than The Last Boyscout (though it too has a funny, semi-parodic script, by Scott Rosenberg).

Since then, Cusack hasn't aged particularly well. Still relatively youthful in appearance, he lacks the gravitas or presence to play the kind of roles actors his age tend to play. This was a problem as far back as the awful City Hall (Harold Becker, 1996), in which Cusack comes over all serious and oscar bait intense and never pulls it off - though his efforts are undermined by Al Pacino at his hammiest - and never even really feels comfortable with the role or the film. In this decade, he has made fewer passion projects and taken fewer risks, instead working in a depressing series of commercial duds, from America's Sweethearts (Joe Roth, 2001) and Runaway Jury (Gary Fleder, 2003) through to Must Love Dogs (Gary David Goldberg, 2005) and Martian Child (Menno Meyjes, 2007). His interesting work is limited to Max (Meyjes, 2002) and Grace Is Gone (James C Strouse, 2007).

Which brings us to a tired-looking Cusack and 2012, and back once again to that the Last Boyscout quote all those years ago. Back then I bet Cusack could never foresee the day when he would need to make big event films in order to make the occasional film that satisfied him. But here he is, in what looks like an utterly offensive, derivative piece of excrement, and i find it hard not to feel disappointed in the man who brought Lloyd Dobler to life.
But then, as Cusacks go, Joan always was more talented...



Anonymous bld said...

Did you enjoy The Ice Harvest? While Cusack wasn't completely convincing it was certainly an entertaining couple of hours.

Also: thanks for not mentioning War, Inc.

2:39 am  
Blogger daveysomethingfunny said...

What the hell happened to Scott Rosenberg as well? Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead and Beautiful Girls were a couple of my favourite films when I was a young man. He was in on the High Fidelity script too if I remember right.

Having IMDB'd him I now see he peaked with Kangaroo Jack. Oh dear.

Maybe Cusack and Kilmer should team up and make some kinda Gay Perry/Martin Blank crossover bromance. With Paul Rudd, obviously.

9:03 pm  
Blogger David N said...

Davey: I am going to write about Scott Rosenberg in the near future, actually. Contain your excitement! Hes moved into TV, basically.

bld: The Ice Harvest was ok, but reminded me of Pushing Tin as Cusack films go - well made and modest and his role could more or less have been played by anyone. A waste of what always made him distinctive.
War, Inc - I think he hoped it would be one of his intelligent, somewhat personal films. And instead it looks like an unfunny mess. And disappeared without trace (straight to DVD here)...

11:45 pm  

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