When asked about the John Hughes films in a recent NY Times interview, John Cusack played the highbrow card. Besides Sixteen Candles, in which he had a minor role, Cusack said that he “never saw the other [Hughes films]. I didn’t understand them. I kept hearing a really hip 40-year-old person talking in teenagers’ mouths.” This teen comedy star of the 80s distancing himself isn’t a surprise, since of late Cusack has taken the serious line in the press, getting political as an interview subject and a blogger at The Huffington Post.
So it’s odd to see Cusack in Hot Tub Time Machine, the new, hilarious raunch comedy that found a spot in the box office top five this past weekend. Acting alongside the fresher blood (but only a little younger) Craig Robinson and Rob Corddry – of The Office and The Daily Show, respectively – makes Cusack seem like a casting error, a cameo miscast into a lead. Cusack wants to have fun appearing in this film, but just can’t let loose. Robinson and Corddry plunge into this shallow spoof of 80s teen comedies, which works off the device of a magical hot tub bringing them back to their youth and its milieu. The two actors run amok as would children of the Todd Phillips/Kevin Smith comic age, ready to drink and rut the night away. Cusack, from a safer time, seems to play by its rules, looking to score something lasting with an intellectual reporter babe.
Though Cusack’s role is meant to be more of a straight man, he’s also alien as such, playing it too narrow. We can’t forget that he had graduated to more serious roles by the 1990s, long before he settled into a bland later career. His range no longer reaching the comic, Cusack is a confused reference point for Hot Tub. A scene in which he encounters Crispin Glover’s fun bellhop has some potential – as if two icons are ready to satirize the decade that made them – but ends up a missed opportunity. Glover, in something of an extended cameo, is in for a mindless, fun occasion. Cusack is lost, needing to head back to the future.
Plus, Cusack spoofing a trademark scene from Sixteen Candles (two lovers over a cake) spins the confusion even further. Wasn’t John one of the geek’s pals? Then again, he’d prefer you forget this role, even though he’s up for the spoof.