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Posted at 10:42 AM ET, 09/29/2009

Remembering John Cusack (No, He's Not Dead)

By Liz Kelly

Commence rant.

This post is for the benefit of the under-30s out there who may not be aware that John Cusack was once cool. Generation X's version of Michael Cera, in fact -- slightly geeky, slightly intense, sweet and basically irrestistible. Had "Juno" been made in 1987, John Cusack would have played Ellen Page's baby daddy. Of course Ellen Page's part would have gone to Winona Ryder or Martha Plimpton, but that's beside the point.

The point, at long last, is that while Cusack started going off the rails about a decade back, he has completely jumped the track and landed smack dab in Will Smith's career trajectory. You can see him channeling Smith in the upcoming blockbuster apocalyptic CGI-fest "2012," tagline: "We Were Warned."

Indeed, we were warned ("America's Sweethearts," "Serendipity"). And while the ancient Mayan calendar stopped at the year 2012 -- conveniently facilitating a hoped-for big box office take when the movie hits theaters in November -- the John Cusack calendar may as well have ended in 2000 with the actor's last respectable work, "High Fidelity."

Below, for the benefit of the young'uns, a sampling from Cusack's better days:

"Say Anything" (1989):

"The Grifters" (1990):

"Grosse Point Blank" (1997):

"Being John Malkovich" (1999):

End rant.

By Liz Kelly  | September 29, 2009; 10:42 AM ET
Categories:  Annals of Bad Movies, Celebrities, Pop Culture  
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John Cusak has always done some offbeat, not great stuff. I remember one that took place on an island. Demi Moore played the chick whose family home was being taken by the local developer. John played the guy with the plan to save it and rallied everyone to the cause. The sick dog had the most memorable role in the whole thing.

So, while he does some GREAT stuff as evidence above, he also has some really bad clunkers. Not even so bad they are good, but bad, bad. Give him time, he will find a great role again. In the meantime, at least he is working.

Posted by: epjd | September 29, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

What, no "Pretty in Pink" clip? John Cusack went off the rails for me in the execrable movie version of "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."

His long rant-y WaPo chat in June 2008 (that wasn't a chat as much as a dissertation-cum-filibuster) didn't help matters.

Whatever. I'd much prefer to talk about his sister Joan. She's fantastic.

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | September 29, 2009 10:58 AM | Report abuse

How about _The Sure Thing_ or _Better Off Dead_? (both from 1985, oddly enough). Those seem to have been the first films that cast Cusack in a leading role.

Posted by: KevFromArlington | September 29, 2009 11:11 AM | Report abuse

He's great in the sack.

Posted by: jezebel3 | September 29, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

Aw, no Cusack bashing! I haven't seen any of the recent stuff, I prefer to live in the past of Lloyd and nerdo boy on Sixteen Candles.

Posted by: rkrush | September 29, 2009 11:12 AM | Report abuse

you forgot the worst. movie. ever./nicolas cage vehicle that was "con air." it even had malkovich and buscemi. wtf?

i will always love lloyd dobbler. always.

Posted by: nachomama1 | September 29, 2009 11:13 AM | Report abuse

I kind of enjoyed Serendipity. I know, I'm hanging my head in smame.

Posted by: DorkusMaximus1 | September 29, 2009 11:26 AM | Report abuse

I've been wondering for some time now what happened to John Cusack! He has made some crap lately, but his earlier stuff was GREAT! I do have to agree with td about that WaPo chat - it really changed my impression of him, although I'd still pay to see him back in form in a movie.

Posted by: talleyl | September 29, 2009 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I meant "Sixteen Candles" not "Pretty in Pink." (Clearly it wasn't a memorable performance regardless.)

Posted by: td_in_baltimore | September 29, 2009 11:35 AM | Report abuse

I fell in love with the man when I was a child, what can I say? I saw The Journey of Natty Gann ( and knew he was The One.

Curiously, that also was released in 1985! Busy year for him ...

Posted by: MonkeyLover1 | September 29, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

I actually like Serendipity. I even did a weekend getaway to New York where I went to all the places used in the movie (except for the Wolmann ice rink, skates and I don't get along). Eat at Serendipity, stay at the Waldorf, go down to Chelsea Piers. It's a great New York even if parts of it were filmed in Toronto.

Posted by: yellojkt | September 29, 2009 11:48 AM | Report abuse

I'm withholding comment until after the release of Hot Tub Time Machine:

Posted by: paujwill | September 29, 2009 11:53 AM | Report abuse

I confess I liked America's Sweethearts too...

I didn't see but was intrigued by War, Inc.

I heart John and would happily accept him back in to the fold...

Posted by: LTL1 | September 29, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

Wait a minute. What's wrong with Con Air?

Posted by: Guest1234 | September 29, 2009 11:58 AM | Report abuse

MonkeyLover1 - me too!!! I was hopelessly addicted to the man for years....but we have drifted apart. His wacky decisions are fewer - "Con Air"'s first action hero in sandals, anyone? I found myself shaking my head in disbelief and irritation as he started picking more navel-gazing roles, thinking that he was cool and hip, buying into his own hype.

I was very disappointed while I sat through a cable airing of "America's Sweethearts" (which also caused me to notice that Julia Roberts has become visibly bitter). No more for me: I think I will leave my beloved John Cusack ensconced warmly and reverently in my past.

I'm on to Joseph Gordon-Levitt....

Posted by: undercover_hon | September 29, 2009 12:06 PM | Report abuse

I second the nomination of "Better Off Dead" - I want my two dollars!

Posted by: Agfras | September 29, 2009 12:09 PM | Report abuse

Guest1234, Besides the obvious wrongs with Con Air, my biggest beef is that everytime it's on, Mr. Lurker is compelled to watch until I remind him what a dumb movie it is. Maybe it's the explosions and gunfire. and I cannot figure out why.

Dave Chappelle was in Con Air too! (I know there were some others that seemed kind of weird when I watch it. So maybe that's what the draw is.)

But, Cusack will come up with another one.

Posted by: anonymouslurker | September 29, 2009 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Sounds like Mr. Lurker and I get sucked into the same movie vortex. If you tell me he also loves Steven Segal moves (guilty!) then I think I'll have you over and a big bucket of popcorn. :P

Posted by: Guest1234 | September 29, 2009 1:31 PM | Report abuse

Wasn't Nicholas Cage's southern accent the absolute worst in Con Air... And yet I watch it if nothing else is on... le sigh...

Posted by: LTL1 | September 29, 2009 2:29 PM | Report abuse

No mention of Cusack in "Fat Man and Little Boy"? I liked him in that, although it was an ensemble movie. And "Better Off Dead" is dumb, but still fun.

FWTW-Mr. jelo watches Con Air every time it is on as well. jelo's brother made her go see it at the theater when it came out, because he didn't want to go by hisself. >:(

Posted by: jelo97 | September 29, 2009 2:45 PM | Report abuse

I kind of liked Martian Boy. I will forgive John Cusack. Still have a soft spot in my heart. None of us our perfect.

Posted by: hodie | September 29, 2009 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Kind of ironic that my mistake is on the line "none of us our perfect". Well there you have it.

Posted by: hodie | September 29, 2009 3:59 PM | Report abuse

I actually love "America's Sweethearts", but now that I think about it, it's not really because of John Cusack.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | September 29, 2009 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Oh come on folks, Con Air is worth watching just for the hilarious scenery chewing by Malkovich--absolutely delightful stuff. Also Cage's over-the-top accent (which was one of a string of weird accent movies he was doing at the time). This is truly "craptastic" moviemaking. As predictable as sunrise. As cheesily macho as it can be. Completely entertaining--I'm practically laughing as I write this just thinking about it.

That said, it's true Cusack's pretty much fallen off the radar. Too bad, he does have his moments.

Posted by: sorcerers_cat | September 29, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Does anyone else ever get Con Air and The Rock mixed up? Jelo's brother also made her see Cage in The Rock against her will.

Posted by: jelo97 | September 29, 2009 4:24 PM | Report abuse

Nobody's mentionned Eight Men Out (1988), a dang good baseball movie. And Con Air was a perfectly OK Dumb Action Flick. Of course, I'm a guy so I'll pass on the Chickflix, but High Fidelity was OK as a combination Chickflik and Musicflick. Looking forward to 2012- nothing to do with Cusack though; I just like good CGI endoftheworldflix.

Posted by: justmike | September 29, 2009 5:06 PM | Report abuse

Wow, "Cage in The Rock" sounds like it should be its OWN movie title!!! : ) Mr. Cusack, look into this: it could be the re-making of you!

Posted by: undercover_hon | September 29, 2009 5:39 PM | Report abuse

I fell for Cusack's charms during his "Better off Dead" and "One Crazy Summer" era - "Grosse Pointe Blank" was probably the end of his funny/weird romantic heros. He's done some good work in darker films: "the Grifters", "John Malkovich"; decent thrillers: "Runaway Jury", "1408", and occasionally catches some of the old brilliance "High Fidelity" (awful hair in that film though).

HOWEVER the GOD AWFUL romantic comedies he's made since '00 make me die a little inside: "America's Sweetharts", "Serendipity", and "Must Love Dogs". Liz, I couldn't agree with you more.

Posted by: flippityflop1 | September 29, 2009 6:01 PM | Report abuse

I really liked Runaway Jury. And High Fidelity of course. Thanks for the reminder flippityflop. However, curses on you for even mentioning the execrable "Must Love Dogs"--what a dreadful exercise in mediocrity that was. And I usually LOVE Diane Lane. Shudder.

Posted by: sorcerers_cat | September 29, 2009 6:28 PM | Report abuse

I enjoyed American Sweethearts, but maybe that was because of Christopher Walken.
And I enjoyed Serendipity

However, Must Love Dogs was a dog (in terms of being horrid, dogs, like my 2 are nice).

Posted by: edlharris | September 29, 2009 6:33 PM | Report abuse

Ok, Michael Cera is cute and all, but he's no John Cusack. No. Not even now. "Sure Thing," by the way, is WAY better than "Say Anything" - it's hilarious. And "High Fidelity" is good enough to make up for other people in "Must Love Dogs," etc., being bad in his company.

Posted by: JGini | September 29, 2009 8:37 PM | Report abuse

The best was viewing Con Air in at theater in Bulgaria. Nothing makes a bloated American piece of cheese seem quite as disgusting as watching it in a forgotten satellite of the former Soviet bloc.

Watched "The Saint" there too. When Elisabeth Shue's character goes running into the American Embassy in Moscow shouting "I'm an American!" and is quickly protected by gun-toting marines the Bulgarians erupted in bitter laughter.

For the record, Con Air is way better than "The Saint." If you wanna look at a promising 80s career that really died, look no further than Val Kilmer.

Posted by: Roxie1 | September 30, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

I much prefer him as an older actor, absolutely love 1408 and War Inc.

Surely shouldn't the scripts be blamed for the lack of great parts rather than himself? Give him some more great comedy roles and I bet he'll be as funny as he was in some early 80s movies like Say Anything or The Sure Thing.

Why does he like to chew those matchsticks though?

Posted by: JulieB | September 30, 2009 1:12 PM | Report abuse

First off Michael Cera is no John Cusack. Cera is a one-note actor from Arrested Development to Juno to Nick and Norah's. If anything Joseph Gordon-Levitt shows promise of being a John Cusack quality actor, but I still wouldn't go that far (yet).

Second... John Cusack would not have taken that role in Juno. The breakout performance in Juno is Ellen Page. The breakout performance in Say Anything was not Ione Skye, it was John Cusack.

Third... Cusack has had a wide array of really good movies: The Sure Thing, Better off Dead, Say Anything, The Grifters, Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity, Anastasia, 1408, War Inc.... that list alone is more quality than most actors can ever hope for.

Forth... many of the films you mention, such as America's Sweethearts and Serendipity... while not the same quality of Say Anything are still better than the other romantic comedy dribble that we've had to sit through like You've Got Mail.

Fifth... Sure Must Love Dogs wasn't good... but the condom chase scene was funny.

Posted by: jak1982 | September 30, 2009 7:49 PM | Report abuse

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