Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Too good for Hot Tub 2, not too good for Drive Hard

John Cusack may be in every straight-to-video movie this side of the 99 cent bin at your local Big Lots, but he's also dying to show you he still has standards.

How else to explain his rapid decline into B-movie ubiquitousness, yet his apparent unwillingness to appear in the sequel to Hot Tub Time Machine?

There are probably other ways -- and I've tried to find out the actual truth why he's not in it, only I can't seem to locate it on the interwebs. But knowing that he's a total prick, I prefer to think of this as a case of misplaced snobbishness.

"A sequel to some dumb comedy? Puh-leeze."

Knowing how indiscriminate he's been with his film choices in the past five years, I found myself genuinely surprised not to see him in the (godawful) trailer for Hot Tub Time Machine 2 the other night. (And considering how godawful it looks, perhaps he was on the right track in avoiding it.)

How indiscriminate has he been? Why, I'm glad you asked. I mean, he's basically the second coming of sometimes costar Nicolas Cage.

Consider some of these titles, compiled only from the period since the original Hot Tub Time Machine came out:

Shanghai (2010)
The Factory (2011)
The Numbers Station (2013)
Adult World (2013)
The Frozen Ground (2013)
The Bag Man (2014)
Drive Hard (2014)
The Prince (2014)
Reclaim (2014)

Heard of any of these, other than them showing up suspiciously quickly on your VOD? Didn't think so.

Yet the idea of associating himself with an actually popular product ... now that's just crazy.

Some of these certainly seemed to have been conceived as better films than the market ultimately deemed them to be ... I mean, not every straight-to-video film knows it will be that from the start. And some of the above did have limited theatrical releases, and during that time Cusack also appeared in such legitimate films as The Butler (2013), The Paperboy (2012), The Raven (2012) and (the barely legitimate) Grand Piano (2013).

So maybe instead of no longer being a popular casting choice, Cusack is just throwing himself into his work to keep himself busy. Better actors have done the same before him, including, arguably, Cage.

I mean, perhaps you make a ton of movies just so you don't have to take Hot Tub Time Machine 2. The original made me chuckle a couple times, but overall I think it's a bit of a mess. And the sequel looks like even more of one. Adam Scott has gamely stepped in for Cusack, joining Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry and Clark Duke from the original. None of those three looks especially pleased to be back, to be honest.

Or maybe Cusack just doesn't view himself as a comic actor anymore. Maybe he wants to focus on dramas or action movies or thrillers.

All of these are possible, so here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to turn this post on its head and consider why all the movies above may have been better choices than Hot Tub Time Machine 2.

Shanghai (2010) - World War II movie directly by legit director Mikael Hafstrom. Bankrolled by the Weinstein Company. Permits to shoot in China revoked a week before filming due to sensitive subjective matter, so shifted to Bangkok at the last minute. Never released in the U.S., but certainly promising enough credentials.

The Factory (2011) - An overly familiar story about a cop chasing a serial killer of women, but at least it was produced by Joel Silver.

The Numbers Station (2013) - Spy thriller set in England, where Cusack works for the CIA. But at least Malin Akerman is a legit co-star.

Adult World (2013) - Cusack plays a poet named Rat Billings. That should be enough. Indie about a girl (the popular Emma Roberts) working in an adult book store. Scott Coffey directed another movie I like (Ellie Parker).

The Frozen Ground (2013) - Alaskan serial killer movie co-starring Cage. Maybe this is the most straight-to-video in nature of the group. But hey, it does also star and was produced by 50 Cent.

The Bag Man (2014) - Thriller. Hey, De Niro's in this! Talk about actors fallen on hard times.

Drive Hard (2014) - Action comedy filmed and set in Australia! That alone should give it a pass. Thomas Jane is a legit co-star.

The Prince (2014) - Gangster movie. Bruce Willis is also in it. Talk about actors fallen on hard times. And again, 50 Cent!

Reclaim (2014) - Thriller about an American couple traveling to Puerto Rico to adopt a child who become embroiled in a deadly scam. Actually sounds moderately high concept and socially relevant ... but then I learn that Ryan Phillippe is one of the stars.

Okay, so they aren't all better choices than Hot Tub Time Machine 2.

It's fascinating how difficult it can be to make the right choices, even if you aren't snootily turning your nose up at comedies that you believe to be beneath you. The first portion of last year's terrific The Congress deals with the famously bad choices made by Robin Wright, playing herself in Ari Folman's film. Yeah, Wright took The Princess Bride and Forrest Gump, but she also turned down Jurassic Park, Batman Forever, Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Born on the Fourth of July and The Firm. Sometimes you just never know ... or you do know, and you decide you don't want it.

When Hot Tub Time Machine 2 scores its 23 on Metacritic, maybe Cusack will read this post and laugh.

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