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Death of the Movie Star: John Cusack… Why Say Anything?


Zen masters find that they are better able to focus their minds by mediating upon unanswerable questions. What is the nature of existence? Is there a God? Why does Hollywood still consider John Cusack a movie star?”

You all know John Cusack– he’s that vaguely good-looking guy who, for about 25 years has turned his benign, angsty presence into a movie meal ticket. He was kind of the Michael Cera of the 80’s, playing pretty much the same mildly amusing, smirky character in a series of films that are remembered more fondly for the nostalgia they provoke than for any intrinsic value.

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Better Off Dead was okay, I guess – I was hammered when I saw it on dollar night in 1985. One Crazy Summer was okay, I guess – I was hammered when I saw it on dollar night in 1986. Do you see a theme?

John Cusack is cinematic wallpaper. Has anyone in recorded history ever said, “Dude, we MUST see this new flick. It’s got CUSACK, man. He’s EPIC!” That’s as likely as saying, “I partied with Lindsay and Paris last night and this morning I didn’t itch!”

Cusack is most fondly remembered for his role as Lloyd Dobler in Cameron Crowe’s Say Anything (1989). But not by me, since I found it unwatchably precious, a kind of manifesto designed to reassure terminally sensitive nonconformists that their inability to connect with normal people marked them as superior beings lesser mortals could never comprehend instead of marking them as the tiresome losers they usually are. It does not hold up. Also, that Peter Gabriel song he plays in the famous boombox-over-the-head scene sucks.

It’s educational to check out to see how Cusack’s work has actually done using real numbers – yeah, sensitive nonconformists, I know it’s uncool to point to objective facts and evidence when subjective feelings ought to provide the basis for opinions, but whatever. The fact is that Cusack really has not been in that many movies, and most of what he’s been in during the last couple decades hasn’t worked out too well.

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Sure, there’s the occasional small hit like Grosse Pointe Blank (1997), where he played a cynically detached hitman with a penchant for wisecracks and new wave music, or High Fidelity (2000), where he played a cynically detached record store guy with a penchant for wisecracks and new wave music. However, the real story is the other movies that he’s done that just kind of sat there – a Grisham adaptation (Runaway Jury (2003)) and a couple of forgettable rom-coms (Serendipity (2001), America’s Sweethearts (2001)). When he’s in a splashy big-budget action epic (Con Air (1997), 2012 (2009)), it’s hard to tell whether the movies do well because of or in spite of his presence, or if he makes no difference at all.

His most recent opus, the kinda-funny Hot Tub Time Machine (2010), did well – it almost certainly made money – but every time Cusack’s hangdog character came on screen the hilarity came to a flying stop. When the Cusack magic is really in full effect is when he does the little movies where his lefty politics must have played a key role in his taking the parts. In War, Inc. (2008), a satire of American Mideast policies, he plays (another) angsty hitman. That smash reeled in a whopping $580,862 at the box office. Grace Is Gone (2007), another anti-Iraq war flick, made a whole $50,899 at the box office. If it was 1907, that would have been a flop.

Cusack appears to be the go-to guy for Hollywood producers looking for a nonthreatening presence with an edge of mordant existential crisis to show up and play the lead. He won’t get any butts in seats, so the thought process goes, but he won’t keep them away either.

Until now. See, Cusack fancies himself something of a political activist. And, of course, the term “activist” means “flaming progressive” since conservatives who are active in politics are properly referred to as “racists” or “Islamaphobes” or “fascists” or “racists” one more time for good measure. With that in mind, he says things in his – wait for it! – Huffington Post blog like:

Bush 2. How depressing, corrupt, unlawful and tragically absurd the administration’s world view actually is…how low the moral bar has been lowered…and (though I know I’m capable of intellectually lazy notions of collective guilt) how complicit our silence as citizens is…Nixon, a true fiend, looks like a paragon of virtue next to the criminally incompetent robber barons now raiding the present and future.

Read the whole thing – it’s hilarious! Cusack leaves no hackneyed lefty trope unturned. He writes like an over-privileged Hollywood actor thinks – chaotically, self-righteously, and with clichés in the place of ideas, as if his mere act of feeling strongly about something makes it incumbent upon the rest of us to understand and accept his insights regardless of how incoherently he presents them.

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Also, he quotes Joe Strummer. Look, I am second to no one in my appreciation of The Clash, but dude, let Joe rest in piece by not bringing up his embarrassing “political” lyrics.

Now, Cusack dropped out of NYU after only ne year, so he should know better – his lack of a pinko university education should have given him a fighting chance to develop a solid understanding of the world, whereas graduating from that prog robot factory would have been all the explanation we need to understand how he got his head so mixed up.

What he forgets is that he simply does not have the stature to go about alienating the audiences who have tolerated his innocuous presence for all these years and thereby created a career where, by all rights, he should not have one. It’s not bright to gratuitously alienate the people who disagree with him on, say, the Ground Zero mosque – you know, that racist, ignorant, stupid, and racist 70% of Americans (did I mention racist?). He recently tweeted on that subject:


First of all, I have no idea what that means except that John Cusack is inarticulately angry at conservatives. Called on it, he proclaimed it a “‘most absurd, over the top joke’, uttered ‘after the 9000th time I was asked about ground zero centre.'” Note the use of the word “absurd” again – “absurd” is one of those giveaway words that dumb people usually use to sound smart when they mean “stupid.”

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The point is not that John Cusack is a liberal – I like lots of liberal actors. I didn’t even dislike Cusack, to the very limited extent he ever entered my consciousness. The point is that he really does not have the reservoir of goodwill that he needs to let him go around publicly disrespecting the people who pay to see the movies he happens to be in.

He doesn’t want to join the elite list of people whose political activity is so irredeemably obnoxious that audiences simply refuse to see his movies just because of his mere presence. Now, he’s not quite in the Hanoi Jane or Sean Penn category – you suck up to the North Vietnamese or Chavez and, dude, I am done with you – but the box office message is clear.

Let me break it down for you since your coterie of suck-ups won’t: John, no one wants to see your pinko films and no one’s particularly interested in being harangued by the guy best known for portraying someone named Lloyd Dobler. My career advice is take a deep breath, thank the Lord for your incredible good fortune, and try not to unnecessarily tick off the very people who are the reason you’re a movie star instead of the assistant night manager at a suburban Chicago Denny’s.

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