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John Cusack: If You Can’t “Say Anything” Nice…

March 11, 2013

When did John Cusack turn into Nicolas Cage? Both started out in smart teen comedies (for Cage, it was Valley Girl and Fast Times at Ridgemont High; for Cusack, Say Anything… and The Sure Thing), became the acclaimed stars of Oscar-caliber movies (Cage’s Moonstruck and Leaving Las Vegas and Cusack’s The Grifters and Bullets Over Broadway), then started making big, dumb action flicks like The Rock (Cage) and Con Air (both) and eventually devalued themselves to the point where they’re stuck doing direct-to-VOD schlock like Cage’s recent Stolen and Cusack’s The Numbers Station, now playing exclusively on DirecTV.

The Numbers Station miscasts Cusack as a burned-out CIA agent who goes on the run with a spunky code breaker (Malin Akerman, aka the poor man’s Cameron Diaz) after she’s attacked by unknown assailants. Cusack’s trademark has always been intelligence, but none is required for this routine spy thriller directed by Kasper Barfoed, whose Danish TV series Those Who Kill will soon be adapted by The Grey‘s Joe Carnahan for A&E. Here’s hoping that’s livelier than this deadly Station.

It didn’t have to turn out this way for Cusack. Early in his career, he proved himself equally adept at comedy (One Crazy Summer, Sixteen Candles) and drama (The Journey of Natty Gann, Eight Men Out). Sure, there were a few bombs like Fat Man and Little Boy and City Hall, but you can’t blame him for wanting to work with acting legends like Paul Newman and Al Pacino or iconic directors like The Thin Red Line‘s Terrence Malick or Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil‘s Clint Eastwood. And with Grosse Pointe Blank, Cusack took control of his own career, cowriting the hit man comedy’s clever screenplay with Steve Pink and D.V. DeVincentis, with whom he’d collaborate again on another of his best films, High Fidelity.

After a brilliant collaboration on Being John Malkovich with Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman (who also reinvigorated Cage’s career with Adaptation), Cusack started to veer wildly off course, and the past dozen years have seen one turkey after another: his heart didn’t seem to be in the rom-coms America’s Sweethearts and Must Love Dogs, his attempts at edginess with the Hitler pic Max, the Iraq War-themed Grace is Gone and the toothless satire War, Inc. made little noise, and some of his choices were just downright weird (Martian Child?). By 2009’s disaster pic 2012, Cusack seemed to have lost the will to live, or at least make good movies.

Then a funny thing happened: Cusack reconnected with the teen spirit of his ’80s and early ’90s comedies with 2010’s Hot Tub Time Machine, which may soon spawn a sequel. The movies that have followed haven’t all been good, but his performances as Edgar Allan Poe in The Raven and a death-row inmate in The Paperboy have shown an anarchic life. And while he continues to churn out assembly-line thrillers like The Factory and The Numbers Station, his upcoming roles sound promisingly risky: playing Richard Nixon in Paperboy director Lee Daniels’ The Butler, a poet named Rat Billings in the porn-bookstore comedy Adult World and real-life serial killer Robert Hansen in The Frozen Ground, opposite… Nicolas Cage! Maybe together they can recapture their acting mojo. If not, they may be—wait for it—Better Off Dead.

What’s your favorite John Cusack flick? Any fans of Identity, Serendipity or 1408?

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3 Comments
  1. squawk permalink

    Yeah, The Paperboy was beyond the realm of cray-cray—some scenes were too disturbing to watch,and I can’t recall the last name I was astounded at how well Cusack was able to play such a despicable character—talk about someone doing a 360-degree turn when it comes to roles—that was a real eye-opener there. But,then, he’s always done the unpredictable thing when it comes to roles—rarely doing the same type twice—check him out as an inner city priest in Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq.

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