||There's something haunting and troubling about actor John Cusack. How else to explain the Show Biz Maven's inner conflicts over watching the actor in HIGH FIDELITY, a movie he helped co-write and smoke through. The Maven is discussing major tobacco here, and the film should have come equipped with a warning that anyone sensitive to nicotine had better have a supply of eyedroppers.
And yet, not even Visine or Murine could blot out Cusak's character, one of life's losers, a former DJ and now a semi-failing record store owner in Chicago specializing in rare vinyl records. What, vinyl? your Show Biz Maven can hear your computer screens rattle. Well, dear Mavenettes, this is what the music industry looked like for a century, and HIGH FIDELITY plays on notes of nostalgia when music didn't make you feel like strangling your neighbor, and tunes didn't ask the tormenting question: Are there any truck stops in heaven?
Cusak's Championship Vinyl store fuels his adolescence by his employees - one who's weird (Todd Louiso) and one who's wired (Jack Black). Louiso redefines the word nerd and almost squeaks when he walks, while Black is the wise guy too elitist to sell even one record. Both revel in being near Cusak who doesn't seem to notice them until they reel off an egotistical knowledge of records, lyrics, composers and daily Top Five lists (Top Five Songs About Death, etc.)...
But Cusak has a list of his own: romantic failures. Talking straight into the camera as if we could talk back, he prattles about the women who jilted him at varying times in his life, never contemplating why. Among them is terrifically beautiful Welsh superstar Catherine Zeta-Jones, clearly one reason for seeing this film. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of a Danish actress, Iben Hjejle, who portrays Cusak's most recent lover and rejecter. The newcomer shows why Denmark has little in common with Wales.
HIGH FIDELITY seems to have more geeks and freaks in this old-fashioned battle of the sexes, and that's why you won't take your eyes off Tim Robbins, Hjejle's new lover and hippie retread. Jack Black, the obnoxious but hilarious store employee is a scene-stealer, while rocker Bruce Springsteen, in a rare cameo, gives advice to the forlorn hero.
But even through flashbacks, Cusak learns no lessons at why he failed at love. Could the needle be stuck in the groove? The movie goes on far too long and the platter seems endless in questioning the motive behind each woman walking out on him, as opposed to the hero putting it all together.
HIGH FIDELITY is based on the novel by Nick Hornby, and Stephen Fears (THE GRIFTERS) directed. While Cusak is cranky and rumpled, there's something endearing about him. As his character tells us, "Call me shallow. It's the f------ truth."
With love & knishes from your Show Biz Maven
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