The curious case of John Cusack

For some reason, John Cusack has never gotten the due he deserved. He’s been overlooked even though he’ll go over $1 billion in career box-office earnings with his latest movie, Hot Tub Time Machine.  

No Oscar nominations, and only one (completely deserved) Golden Globe nomination. He’s only been in two movies that even made over $100 million. In both cases, he had to share screen time with special effects.

When his name is mentioned, there is still a segment of the population that says “Who???” before you read off the extensive list of his projects to get to the “Ohhhh, him!” moment.

a pathetic, washed up, aged ex-champion he is not

a pathetic, washed up, aged ex-champion he is not

Now start really thinking about his 80s teens contemporaries. How many have had a better consistent, lifetime career than Cusack? One? Two? I’m going with two, Sean Penn and Tom Cruise. But for as good as those two careers have been, they’ve also been bogged down with extreme baggage stemming directly, it would seem, from superstardom. Cusack has managed to avoid that. Johnny Depp didn’t really come on the scene until the 90s. Robert Downey Jr. disappeared for too long. Cusack has lapped the entire Brat Pack and guys like Patrick Swayze, Matthew Broderick, Rob Lowe, Kevin Bacon, Josh Brolin, Matt Dillon and Michael J. Fox don’t have the type of careers to sniff Cusack’s jock.

No one else in the Brat Pack can lay claim to leading an iconic movie in each of the last three decades, but Cusack can. Even if it’s been 21 years since Lloyd Dobler and (gulp) 25 years since Lane Meyer, Cusack doesn’t have to be that washed-up tool showing up at the Oscars in a some sad, where-are-they-know tribute to John Hughes because he’s got a post-80s resume of brilliance that puts just about every other teen actor of his generation to shame:

Bullets Over Broadway (1995): Cusack had to pretty much carry this movie in the Woody Allen role of the Woody Allen movie. He was in just about every scene, and with Woody Allen dialogue, that ain’t easy. Three other members of the cast received Oscar nominations — including Jennifer Tilly (!) — but Cusack wasn’t in a loaded field that he would have had no chance in anyway.

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997): One of the ultimate “You need to see it twice” movies to really get it. Sadly, people didn’t even bother seeing it once.

Con Air (1997): It’s testosterone-generated, explosion-driven Jerry Bruckheimer BS. But Cusack showed he can do action, even if he didn’t do the action scenes very well. He’s one of the redeemable parts of this movie and a reason to re-watch it when it’s on TNT 20 times a weekend.

Being John Malkovich (1999): Cusack had done weird and off-the-wall before, but never like this. He spent his big-time 80s movies going for the easy laughs, and he did it well. But with comedies like Grosse Pointe Blank, Malkovich and his next movie, he proved he can just as deftly do smart, adult comedy.

High Fidelity (2000): His lone Golden Globe nomination — and it should have been an Oscar nod too. High Fidelity and Malkovich are Cusack’s crowning achievements in film, he may never make two movies this good again, and it will be almost impossible to do two movies like this back-to-back again. Rob Gordon is Lloyd Dobler 10 years older, so it’s not like he was breaking new ground. As much as every teen guy identified with Dobler, those same people felt connected with Rob Gordon, a lost-his-way, lost-his-girl, 20-or-30-something at the start of the decade working at his dream job but still unsatisfied. So in a way, those people, people like me, grew up with Cusack and didn’t even realize it.

1408 (2007): It’s like he looked at his career and said, “Hmmmm, how is it that I never did a horror movie?” Check.

2012 (2009): He had gone years without a hit, deciding to do mostly passion projects for the decade, so it seems weird that he would even be cast in this movie. He wasn’t the star, even though he was first-billed. The star was the special effects, and I’m sure even Cusack knows that. But when you’re first-billed on a movie that makes $769 million around the world, you don’t ahve to explain yourself, you just cash the check and answer the phone politely when someone calls looking to hire you now.

And that’s only post-80s. In the 80s, Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer are two of my favorite comedies, Eight Men Out is one of the best sports movies ever, he had a small but pivotal role in Stand By Me and Say Anything taught every teen that if you wanna get a girl, you do this:

the cusack machine rolls on

the cusack machine rolls on

So maybe it’s not that surprising that I’m not that excited about Hot Tub Time Machine, even though it reeks of a movie I’d go nuts for. It started out with a kind of Snakes on a Plane vibe with such a ridiculous, self-explanatory title that it made you curious. I guess I just like that kind of thing. And hey, returning to the 80s? Party time! We’ve had movies about people returning to the 50s (Back to the Future) and the 60s (Peggy Sue Got Married, Austin Powers), so it’s a good decision to skip the 70s and head right into the 80s. You can possibly say 13 Going on 30 fits in as an 80s time travel movie, but then I’d have to see it. So it’s about time someone decided it’s time to start reliving the 80s. Plus, the red band trailer was pretty funny, but then the TV previews just seemed to be … off. That stupid Michael Jackson joke is so easy and lame it almost completely turns me off from the entire movie. Even if I’m not going to see it in the theaters — it screams Saturday night Redbox special in July — I still like hearing about what its stars were doing in the 80s, especially Cusack.

The fact that he pretty much just blows the decade off probably makes him cooler.

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