Remember that shy, witty boy next door who, despite having quite average looks, could win the hearts (and maybe more importantly, the minds) of women all across the country? Remember his raspy voice delivering one liners and quasi-psychological quips with the timing of a fine comedian in films like Better Off Dead and Say Anything? That guy is now playing Edgar Allen Poe in yet another poorly-judged carer move. Can someone get ahold of John Cusack? The former teen romance expert has become a side note in film history, as expendable now as he used to be important. Some actors make brilliant, transcendent careers on being diverse and being able to disappear into any role. An early Robert DeNiro was the best at that. Michael Fassbender is headed that way now. John Cusack was never that kind of actor, so I wish someone would sit him down and tell him that no matter what he might think, he is John Cusack. There are many wonderful and charming things he can do as an actor, but playing Edgar Allen Poe is not one of them.
It is true, John Cusack is getting a bit older these days, turning 46 this June. But he can still play the unassuming charmer. Those age rules don't really apply to men the way they do women, and although I don't agree with these unspoken, unwritten rules that is an argument for another day. Now, I'm not asking that John Cusack simply fill out the cookie-cutter shoes of the next male lead in the latest forgettable romantic comedy (avoid Katherine Heigl, John) because his acting is made that way. Nobody's acting is really made that way. In fact, Cucack was the best when he was the nerdy guy not getting the girl. But somewhere along the way he became the guy who won the lady. He was great in Better Off Dead, one of his first starring roles, but not as a ladykiller. He could even morph into a mid-American ballplayer in Eight Men Out without much trouble, playing off his Irish Catholic Illinois roots.
We all know his hits like Say Anything and Grosse Pointe Blank, and those have their own unique qualities. But Cusack is a strong center character working in a variety of settings. He is a different version of the same person, which is where he works best. There is a bit of diversity available in his arsenal, true, like when he played conman Roy Dillon in the greatly underrated The Grifters. But if there is going to be anyone pop up in a head-scratching role, it is John Cusack. More than any other actor, it seems he will appear and you say to yourself "really?" Remember him as the cop in Con Air? Exactly. Cusack disappears into roles where he does not belong, but not in the good way. And there's always been this curious need to put Cusack into courtroom dramas. But out of City Hall, Runaway Jury, and War Inc., which do you remember in the slightest? The problem is, John Cusack does not work in a thriller. Which poses a serious problem for ol' Ed Poe.
John Cusack has range, because every actor must have at least some range. But repeatedly he is stepping outside of his own abilities, like he doesn't look at his won work and see what is well done and what looks bad. After all his sister, Joan, doesn't pop up as the romantic lead in much, because she functions perfectly as the quirky friend or the weirdo. John Cusack is too dry for thrillers (although Identity is a nice guilty pleasure), but there has been and always will be a place for him as a legitimate, entertaining, charming actor. I just don't think it's playing Edgar Allen Poe. If thriller is out of Cusack's range, Gothic horror should read like a foreign language to him.