RIORI Vol 3, Installment 44: David R Ellis’ “Snakes On A Plane” (2006)


Snakes on a Plane


The Players…

Samuel L Jackson, Julianna Marguiles, Nathan Phillips, Bobby Cannavale, Flex Alexander and Todd Louiso, with Sunny Mabrey, Kenan Thompson, Rachel Blanchard and David Koechner.


The Story…

After witnessing a brutal gangland hit, Sean Jones has got to get out of Hawaii and back to the mainland to testify. But gangsters being a prickly bunch wouldn’t just let Jones waltz back to LA, so FBI special agent Neville Flynn lends his protection.

Again, angry gangsters can be tenacious in making people “disappear,” even those secured on a one-way flight. But why use guns, thugs and even hijacking to take out the mark when one can take more subtle approach?

Like using poison.


The Rant…

Okay. Quick quiz: who out there knows what a “cult film” is?

*a few raised hands, a few shrugs and definitely a few snores*

You. In the back with the half-empty sack of Funyuns. You have bright eyes.

Um, okay. A documentary on the Jonestown Massacre counts. I guess.

Let me steer you right, or at least into my web, little fly. The kind of cult film I’m talking about is a movie that was usually a poor performer at the multiplex for being either to esoteric in story or too left of center to attract a wide, mainstream audience. Most of these movies tank, but have that je ne sais quoi that gradually draws viewers into its vortex over time. Thank home video, late night HBO and the junk Netflix streams for pennies. Such movies aren’t necessarily bad per se, but definitely steering along the road less travelled. Some are just so odd, so half-baked, so damned stubborn that the filmmakers must have had an extra chromosome floating around in their muse.

And every year more folks heed the clarion call. A vast, quiet flock (well, mostly quiet. You can’t watch Monty Python And The Holy Grail with dweebs who just. Won’t. Stop. Quoting. The dialogue. Run away!) glom onto these kooky flicks and follow its story, actors, one-liners as gospel with all the reverence of a Benedictine monk. Or a soldier in the Kiss Army. One and the same, really. These fans have arcane knowledge about every aspect of their quarry. They’ve memorized the lines. They’ve deconstructed the plot eight ways to Sunday. Sometime Monday, too, just to be sure. They get something deep out of such movies. I ain’t talking pithy examinations of the human condition made flesh via celluloid. Something deep, life-altering, meaningful. Something like seeing the violence inherent in the system. Like being oppressed. Such film fiends are loonies.

*pause for effect*

Word of mouth. That’s how cult films are truly created. Sure, sure. The usual machinations are well in place whenever a director cuts their film. They know where it’s supposed to go. The final product, however…well, it just misses the mark. And then they roll the rock away from the cave and those who got the true message of the movie flitter into the night and harangue like-minded goofs with all the rapture of someone who just lost their virginity to a stranger in a bus station that reeked of Funyuns—

*cocked eyebrow*

—and would only accept Sacagawea dollars as payment for services. Or more Funyuns. Admit it. You’ve been there yourself. Drawn into a web of mystery, dangerous and foreign. Seeing a movie not meant to be popular, a moneymaker or even make much sense. Mulling it over to see its inner value, repeated viewings.

And eventually you loved it. You saw the light. It was a dark, sticky light to be sure, like the kind glowing from beneath Mr Funyuns’ red-shaded lamp (how he got the lamp to work in the bus station escapes me, too), but you saw the light. You began to obnoxiously quote Holy Grail (assh*les). You figured out why Brazil was titled Brazil. You agreed with Wooderson about them high school girls. You knew that that carpet really did tie the room together. You laughed at those who thought Snake was dead. You got it.

No one else did. And welcome to the club.

Cult. Have some Kool-Aid. One of us one of us one of us.

*obligatory beer can to the temple*

Thanks. Needed that. Moving on.

Here’s the rub: cult films are not designed to be so. They’re accidents. Almost stillborn at the box office, audiences unfound. They gotta gestate in the underverse of bootleg tapes/happenstance viewings/careful YouTube scouring/falling off a truck. They’re popularity is also made buoyant by geeks in high school whose interaction with the opposite sex happens with all the frequency of an Elvis sighting (the King’s working in a bait shop in Michigan with Tupac and Jim Morrison, BTW. Check out the movie). Cult films just happen; there is no formula. The plots and acting and styles are myriad.

*list time*

Movies like anything by Monty Python, Escape From New York, Time Bandits, The Big Lebowski (an anomaly, actually), Dazed And Confused, Pulp Fiction, even the original Star Wars trilogy and the magna mater of cult films The Rocky Horror Picture Show all bucked a trend (or perhaps started one). Be it floundering at the box office, receiving dodgy criticism and mostly shrugs or just being too obtuse and f*cking weird, all those titles gained fame and redemption by accident. Happy accident, much to the directors’ chagrin.

Still, consider this: Eddie And The Cruisers warranted a sequel thanks to heavy HBO rotation.

Even the dumpiest of films have an audience out there, waiting. Said hordes behind the rock, sniffing popcorn and programming Tromaville into their GPS units. They wait. Oh yes, they wait. They wait for the accident, like rubbernecking on the highway at rush hour. Check out the wreckage. We should film this! The accident!

That’s the key word in the endgame: accident. You can’t create a cult film on purpose. You can almost pay homage to such travesties with a tight budget, canned acting and an angular plot. But it has to be organic. Let the chips fall. No plot wheel could save you now. Let the best boy walk off the set. Set that model train on fire and hope the audience doesn’t notice it’s melting. Contract a marginally talentend band for the soundtrack (or even Philip Glass). Hell, create a matte painting of the Manhattan skyline denuded of electricity and hurl a Revell 747 at it. Cross your fingers.

Cult films just happen. They sprout like mushrooms. Can’t predict them. Can’t design them. No matter what you try.

That being said, guess what? Somebody tried…


Special agent Neville Flynn (Jackson) has had some tricky assignments before, but his latest is gonna be one for the ages. Sure, it’s just routine witness protection, but this poor schlub—one Sean Jones (Phillips) saw something that he sure shouldn’t have.

While vacationing in Hawaii, Jones’ bike ride ended in a gangland hit of the first degree. No one f*cks with Eddie Kim and Sean sees why. Namely baseball bats to the head. And chest. And nether regions. And Jones gets the f*ck away from the scene of the crime as fast as his bike can carry him.

So enter Flynn. Jones’ case is pretty straightforward. Get him on a plane. Fly to LA to have him testify. Keep the dope alive. And keep Kim’s thugs at bay. Simple, right?

Uh-uh.

Sure, mob toughs are a creative lot when it comes to waxing any poor fool who happens into their ill gotten games. Can’t leave any witnesses. Might gum up their works. But this Jones dope can do real damage, and TSA is rather crafty in doing the opposite of the gorillas. Getting a shooter on a plane is tricky. Sabotaging the plane is too messy. No. The best approach is to be sneaky. Nail the nabob via stealth. And a keen understanding of herpetology.

Not long after takeoff, something goes horribly awry. Flynn’s usually solid in his duty, but he’s never had to face a menace like this. A horde of venomous snakes tendril out of the cargo hold, wantonly biting and poisoning the passengers, searching to bring Jones down.

The heck?

The pilot’s disabled. The passengers are panicked. Jones is pissing his pants. Flynn, with all his experience in the field, is woefully unprepared for this calamity. All that’s left to do is ride this nightmare out, slapping the lion hard enough to make him stop roaring and rally any able body not bitten.

Security detail. It’s usually pretty routine…


It’s worth noting that Snakes On A Plane had quite a push into the multiplex by an internet campaign/baiting. Curious potential fans responded in kind, and the producers tweaked the movie to better serve the prospective audience. In other words: sweetening.

“Sweetening” is an old school term—often used for even older school TV programming—to tweak the production just enough to make a so-so plot into a story that’ll really grab ’em in Columbus. Sh*t like strategic laugh tracks, snazzier costuming and/or pandering to the lowest common denominator. Like canned chuckles and low cut dresses. Stuff like that.

The producers of Snakes stirred the pot/plot enough in response to internet furor. The end result? A manufactured cult movie.

Recall what I said about cult flicks being organic things. They just happen. There is no design. Once the beast is let loose xenogenesis takes over (refer to the I, Robot installment). What the would-be cult movie was morphs into what the cult movie becomes by what a weirdo audience embraces after the fact. After the fact. After the fact. One cannot create a cult film with any forethought or creative design. Did John Carpenter set out to create the ultimate bogeyman flick with Halloween? Maybe. More likely he was just following his muse. He wasn’t trying to break any banks. Chances are any deep meanings to Michael Myers killing spree were nary to be seen. He wasn’t trying to raise William Shatner’s profile any higher either, I’ll bet. Nope. Just wanted to make a scary movie and a love letter to Howard Hawks.

But the kids in purple robes and fresh kicks laid out on the beds and waited for the saucers to arrive nevertheless.

Folks have made the argument that Snakes was designed to be a cult film on purpose. The sweetening kinda leans towards the truth. This practice kind of ruins the whole “organic” aspect of a cult film. Sure, you can be coy. You can cage gimmicks from countless other “successful” cult flicks, even with respect. A nod here and there. You can try and be respectful, even tasteful. But you can’t jam a loose formula down collective throats and expect longevity. You can’t storm the gates of Heaven Can Wait. You gotta have patience that you didn’t know you needed.

Someone should’ve smacked director Ellis upside the head with this concept.

Like most of you goofballs, I find Sam Jackson amusing and often entertaining (I loved him in the movie where he played the angry black guy). He’s built up quite the CV portraying left of center characters, from a semi-cultured hitman to a comic book villian to a Jedi. He’s a cult figure in and of himself, really. It’s unfortunate that his cachet was shoehorned into Snakes. It’s almost as if his résumé preceded him here, and so the scene chewing and gesticulating felt called in. It was cartoonish, as was the rest of the cast’s antics.

Before I rail on here, I gotta jump in. On myself. Think that might defy some law of physics. Oh well, moving on.

That term cartoonish is rather apt in describing Snakes’, well, everything. If this was attempting to be a cult movie intentionally—respecting the whole offbeat and angular premise above—most culty flicks do have an aspect of Looney Tunes creeping at the fringes. Escape From New York plays like a comic book (which was eventually made into a series featuring the further exploits of Snake Plissken, who turned out to still not be dead). All the Monty Python films are the near sardonic musings of Lewis Carroll on an acid trip. Practically any effort from Hal Ashby is an exercise in bitter absurdity (Harold And Maude anyone?). What’s up with that, Doc?

But on the flipside, such films do have a serious muse driving them. Or at least a determined, demented,  mescal soaked urge. What gets filmed needs to be filmed, not what’s supposed to be filmed, no matter how calculated Kubrick’s catalogue appears to be. If their warped children come across as obtuse, quirky or just plain “what the f*ck?” a measure of organic growth insinuates itself. I mean, Blade Runner didn’t just happen—it was DOA at the box office and was a slow burn on video to raise it up as the masterpiece it is (not looking forward to the sequel BTW. Betcha neither is Ford, really)—but Ridley Scott had his vision, which varied significantly from Philip Dick’s source novel. The drive to follow a muse can make director and especially scenarists do some kooky things.

Kooky is not really a muse. You can’t tell the punchline before the joke. Either Snakes missed the bus, or made a mash-up of too many out-of-left-field tropes that bubbled up from a cult film “formula” The most obvious I spied with my little eye? Low production value. How’s that for a hint? Snakes resembles a made-for-TV movie on the USA Network circa 1991. Well aged cheeze. The characters are all ciphers, including Jackson as the rough-and-tumble FBI flatfoot. And as a companion to the goofball plot, there is much too much winking to the audience. Silliness as a form of build-up to the climax, which never ceases. It’s a night at Dave & Buster’s here: steady stream of stupid. Is everything here on purpose (yep)? The lines get kinda blurry. Either Snakes is a charming lark, a nod to low budget schlockfests following the filmmaker’s sinister urge, or a very deliberate send-up of such movies. Gets hard to tell. Too much winking? Stuff is amusing is stuff is amusing. We shouldn’t need cues.

I feel behooved now (am I using too many academic words, poop head?) to mention the Mel Brooks/Zucker Brothers aspect of stupid here. Talk about organic. And to specify my personal definition, organic means patient, if not in pace than in gestation. Slow and/or casual build-up. Sure, Mel’s antics are manic and often rapid-fire, but almost all his sh*t is deliberate, and I’ll don’t mean literally on purpose.

C’mon, fire. Walk with me.

Everything in Snakes tries to hard to be loose and freewheeling, and at the same time it’s also perplexing. Is it manufactured cult film via message boards, and wink and a nod to multiple Bruce Campbell vehicles or a big, stupid joke? To that I respond: right? Right? Reply hazy. Ask again later.

Wasn’t planning to go into the acting or tech aspects of Snakes here. On purpose. Not much to get into beyond the cult quandary. To me (surprise, surprise) that biz was the raison d’etre for my rant. Acting? Who cares? Stereotypes all around. Plot? A distillation of every cult signature this side of Ed Wood’s filmography. Technical sh*t? Right, sh*t. Snakes was formulaic, again maybe on purpose. What I took away was Snakes was either the most sly movie to come down the pike in tricking/sating the audience into cultish fun or willfully attempting to be the stupidest. Here’s a case of you gotta see it to come to your own conclusions. Shockingly enough, I already came to mine. Like I implied, pick your poison.

So to speak.

Anywho, what have we learned? Not much with all my rambling. Snakes‘ lo-fi ethos could either be a tribute to such flights of fancy like the rubbery Godzilla flicks or a blatant rip-off teetering into Sharknado territory. Quite the boondoggle. Pick a card, any card. I myself wished Snakes was clearly funnier and more daring overall minus the effort. That’s what matters in a movie called Snakes On A (Mother-f*ckin) Plane. We be tryin’ too hard here. I think. It’s more stupid than funny. Not organic, which is usually how “cult” films are borne, dig? Better by now, punk.

There. Said my peace. Any questions from the back?

*sigh*

Right. The bathrooms are on the left, next to the Bursar’s office. Quit hissing.

Class dismissed. Turn in your blue books. You may now return your stewardess to her upright position.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Relent it. Too much confusing stupid. Too much trying to be ironic without using the term “ironic” in a proper context. Too much injury to my sense of what evolves into a cult film. Not enough boobie shots. I have standards, y’know.


Stray Observations…

  • Something tells me Jackson took this role and acted later otherwise.
  • “This better be a matter of national security.”
  • A lot of Three Stooges action here. Almost redeeming.
  • “I almost beat the last level.”
  • There’s a possible nod to Airplane! here. Just sayin’.
  • “I can’t believe I’m saying this…” Might as well’ve been the tagline here.
  • Another possible nod to the those 70s disaster flicks. Well, we got the disaster part right with the final cut.
  • “I got bit too.”
  • “Snakes On Crack.” Better title.
  • “You’d be amazed at what a man can do with one hand.” Get it, America?
  • Every actor seemed deflated here. Especially that chick in the Mile High Club scene. And the little dog, too. Ha ha. I love being funny and clever.
  • “You too, huh?”

Next Installment…

Tiring of years with access to Wi-Fi, regular bathing and not having to forage, Jennifer Aniston (groan) and Paul Rudd (yay) develop a burning case of Wanderlust. Beyond this point there be hippies.


RIORI Vol. 2, Installment 36: Stephen Frears’ “High Fidelity” (2000)


High-Fidelity-poster-art


The Players…

John Cusack, Iben Hjejle, Jack Black and Todd Louiso, with Catherine Zeta-Jones, Lisa Bonet, Sara Gilbert, Joan Cusack and Tim Robbins.


The Story…

Once again, cranky audiophile Rob Gordon has been dumped by…oh, it doesn’t matter. They’re all the same, ever since middle school. After this latest failure of a relationship, Rob decides to do some soul-searching; to figure out what’s gone wrong in his life when it comes to the opposite sex. It may be a lack of maturity. Or his caustic attitude. Or most likely, he identifies better with the music in his unfeasible record collection than actual socializing. Whatever the reason may be, Rob’s going to be adrift and alone forever if he doesn’t take off the headphones.


The Rant:

Here we go again with another music-themed movie, and you just know your not-so-humble blogger is going to either rail on and on about corporate rock and/or rail on and on about his psychotic record collection.

Nope.

Not this time. Not gonna do it. We’ve got something else under the lens today: movies based on pre-existing media. In the case of High Fidelity, books.

With any movie adaptation of a pre-existing literary form—a Shakespearean play, a novel, a comic book, etc.—the director has to walk a very loose tightrope, but a tightrope nonetheless. I say loose because we have two sides of an audience to reach here—most of whom are fickle—and we best be flexible.

On one side, the audience that knows the source material, wants to see the director’s vision and interpretation of said source as close as possible, hopefully satisfying the need (sometimes obsession) to see if he got it “right.” People want to see the director’s vision not getting in the way of…well, the director’s vision. You don’t want to have a color-by-numbers, scene-by-scene exact duplication of the original material. That’s a cop-out, especially to those who already read the book and probably loved the book like chocolate, sex and sex-covered chocolate.

On the other side, you don’t want the director to deviate so far from the original idea so to mangle the script, use lame dialogue, and stick in some artistic “flair” that either Hollywood insisted on adding like a happy ending, general sweetening or Jennifer Aniston. That or placating the director’s muse excitedly sh*tting on his head. It’s a delicate balance, and the pissy audience that already read the book—Harry Potter fans, Game of Thrones disciples, Walking Dead adherents and/or Fifty Shades of Grey very desperate housewives—wants it both ways. When it doesn’t work out, it’s usually the audience’s fevered fanboy-ism that’s to blame. Not that they’d ever admit it.

That being said, there have been several notable book-to-film adaptations; some were stellar or at least satisfying. Sam Raimi’s Spider Man 2 springs immediately to mind. My opinion is best validated by rumor having it that when original Spidey artist John Romita, Sr. caught a sneak peak of the film, his comments were more-or-less, “I drew that…Drew that…That too…etc.” Sounds like the movie straddled the line well to me. Other highlights include MASH, the Godfather and the original Die Hard; yes, Die Hard was based on a book. I read the book after seeing the movie like, oh I dunno, a jillion times. I can safely say that here’s one instance where the movie version is superior. All the humor and vulnerability of Bruce Willis’ iconic, relatable everycop John McClane were absent in the book, as well as the hero being actually named “John McClane.”

As a control, Forrest Gump is not a good example. The touchy-feeliness of the movie version was sentimental Hollywood claptrap, which reliably raked in the dollars and awards; the novel was pessimistic with a capital P, Jenny. Another bad example, oddly enough, is Die Hard 2. Yes, yes, it was based on a book, too. A very good book, BTW. Hack director Renny Harlin chewed it up and spat it out and made a good, taut action/thriller novel into the ur-Michael Bay summer blockbuster. Lots of boom, bullets and bad dialogue. Yippee-ki-yay.

So why do some adaptations work and others limp? Like I said, walking the tightrope. There has to be enough cuts from the original roast to remain true to the spirit of the book, yet have enough directorial sensitivity to respect the lifted material while still adding a unique spin. This is usually done with visuals, dialogue and above all else acting. That and a kick-ass screenwriter like Ted “The Silence of the Lambs” Tally or Richard “The Quiet Man” Llewellyn don’t hurt none. All of it as a whole must be executed with extremely extreme prejudice. In simpler words: don’t dupe the audience. There’s a good chance they already read the book well before the movie hype hit the dailies. Ask any Shakespeare aficionado. Or Spider-Man fanboy.

Some books-turned-movies use the device of a narrator, and sometimes it works. Fight Club employed a narrator (to go so far as to credit Edward Norton simply as “Narrator”), so did Forrest Gump (and despite that movie’s squishiness, it worked too) and also Taxi Driver, A Christmas Story, The Big Lebowski, Apocalypse Now, GoodFellas and—before God—Dances with Wolves. These all worked. High Fidelity uses a narrator too. What separates this movie from the others is the deliberate shattering of “the fourth wall.”

For those who don’t know the reference, I’ll share. Look, it’s not as if the readers out there on the Interweb are thick, it’s just I want to be clear. I gather that most of us are of decent intelligence; of a curious nature that draws the lot of y’all to sh*t-digging social experiments like this one. I can get obtuse in my rumination at RIORI, so I’m making a point out of this one. It’s vital to the movie as a whole.

The “breaking of the fourth wall” is a theatrical reference in which a player steps out of character to directly address the audience. Bill Shakespeare (him again) did this often, like in his drama Othello where the baddie kept telling the audience about his nefarious plans, mwa-ha-ha. The best example used I can recall in modern cinema is in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Our protag makes asides to the audience enhancing the action to what’s happening (or will happen) onscreen. For High Fidelity, not unlike Day Off, it augments the comic aspects of the movie. Unlike Fidelity, all the wink-wink/nudge-nudge bets are off.

All right, lecture’s over. Hand in your blue books.

*cheers, applause, sighs of relief, lines to the bathroom*

Hmm. It seems like I’ve already chewed apart our latest installment before the synopsis is out there. Glad you caught me…


Laura (Hjejle) left. She finally had her fill of Rob (Cusack), his musical obsessions and his generally mopey attitude. She’s just another failed relationship in Rob’s seemingly endless line of failed relationships. Now he’s alone, bitter and the only companionship he can find is his unwieldy record collection.

What went wrong?

Rob now plays out days at his semi-failing record shop, Championship Vinyl, dealing with the snobby opinions of his “musical moron twins,” blithering Barry (Black) and milquetoast Dick (Louiso). Nights are spent organizing and reorganizing his LPs, ruminating over the notion that maybe he’s doomed to live alone forever.

Again, what went wrong?

In a rare moment of clarity, Rob does some soul-searching. He recalls his “top five, all-time breakups,” and how they happened. His sifts through his address book and decides to track down his exes to see if there was a pattern forming; what led to his undoing and lowly state. Sure, it might be painful to go down memory lane, facing some ugly truths about his relations with the opposite sex. But you know what they say: pain means you’re growing.

Rob figures it’s time to man up, stare down adulthood, get some maturity and, well, face the music…


I read High Fidelity well after I saw the movie. A lot of people—the aforementioned fanboy audiences— always claim that the book is always better than the movie. Fidelity is an exception to that belief. I’m not saying that either one was superior to the other. I’m saying with Fidelity as a whole, it didn’t really matter.

The movie is very faithful to the book. Very faithful. Like I said, I read the book after I saw the movie, and it made no difference. That’s how faithful Frears’ adaptation was. There were only three differences between the book and the movie:

  1. The setting. Nick Hornby’s book took place in London. The movie is set in Chicago. Cusack, who co-wrote the screenplay, is a native Chicagoan, as well as a handful of the other actors (Robbins et al). They were all once part of a troupe in the Windy City, and it was at Cusack’s behest that these folks could add something to the movie, enhance the set as tableau. Like the book, London was much a character as Chicago is here. Director Frears—who is English—was originally rather diffident about shooting an English story in an American city until he read the script and met the cast. In the end, where High Fidelity takes place was irrelevant. Some stories, like Hornby’s delightful novel, are universal. Life, love and leaving. That’s what Fidelity is all about.
  2. One scene from the book was deleted, and one was added. In the book, the chapter where Rob went record hunting at a spurned wife’s exes fire sale of his record collection was left out. The subplot about Rob producing a pair of burgeoning amateur musicians was added. Both were metaphor for Rob’s life arrest and eventual getting on with life. Both worked well, and;
  3. In the book, he was Rob Fleming. In the movie, he’s Rob Gordon. Not sure why this was done.

At heart, Fidelity is not a music movie. Right. It does have the soundtrack of my dreams, even Katrina & the Waves and “Most of the Time” is one of my fave, latter-day Dylan songs. But it’s not a music movie. It’s a story about personal responsibility and belated growing up.

It’s a lot of other things, too. Fidelity is a love story to and within Chicago, but the opposite of Ferris Beuller. Frears turned out to be wrong, all right. The setwork is great, and the backdrop of the city makes for a lovely sofa. The setting doesn’t really matter, but it helps the movie took place in a city as diverse as Chicago.

Almost as diverse as Rob’s infeasible record collection. Both are as much characters in the movie as the actors. Rob’s music collection is so intertwined with his personality—and his troubles—it’s like he can’t divorce himself from self-absorption steeped in adolescent fantasies and motives. His whole “art of the mixtape” schtick comes across as both solace and salvation, a la a teen brooding in his room after being not invited to the jocks’ beer bust. In the end, it’s all just juvenile and for naught, especially for a mid-30s bachelor and record geek.

Another thing: most importantly Fidelity is a character study, and without a primo cast like this one, there’d be just another Gen X nostalgia cash cow being milked here. Usually the director guides the actors. According to Frears, Fidelity was the other way around. And the whole thing rests on Cusack’s shoulders. If a lesser actor was employed the whole thing might’ve torn apart at the seams.

Rob is a walking headache. Leave it to Cusack to deliver his role with a slumped-shoulders, Holden Caulfield affect. No matter how old he or his story gets, Rob’s terminally in the 7th grade. It drums up sympathy for a character who really is a drudge, cranky and generally not a guy you’d want to share a beer with. His character does a lot of acting with a hangdog and a blank, baleful, hundred-mile stare. It’s paramount to breaking the fourth wall.

Oh yeah, that. The whole narrator thing? Key.

The DVD release of Fidelity has clips and commentary from Cusack and director Frears. Frears was a fan of the book and always wanted to make it into a movie, but was afraid that all of “the good stuff” would have to be left out. It was Cusack’s idea to do the whole narration thing. That way, all the exposition that was so vital to the book was left in, delivered in this very clever, non-intrusive way to convey Rob’s angst. It’s very subtle, thanks to Cusack’s alternating manic and meandering delivery. His monologues are like the confessionals of a middle schooler, which Rob ostensibly still is. It works well with the theme of life arrest. Rob’s just a “victim of circumstance,” with circumstances he’s created. He’s boxes himself in with his own rationalizing, and gets it intimate with the audience.

Fresh-faced Hjejle is great as Laura. She’s very disarming, kinda like a Gen X Isla. Laura is oddly strong, yet vulnerable. You get the feeling that she doesn’t want to leave Rob, she just has to so to maintain her sanity. It’s tough to be in a long term relationship with someone who just doesn’t get commitment, that it’s not just about you anymore. Rob is all about “you,” meaning him. Laura, whether Rob knows it or not, keeps him grounded. She’s never shown to be the bad guy. She bails, and it’s not for wondering why.

Black and Louiso are the Laurel and Hardy in Fidelity. Dick and Barry are yin and yang. Black is delightfully toxic. His acerbic wit and classic music snob blathering is both hilarious and cringe-worthy. I think we all know someone like Barry. They are all alone in a crowded record store. If only more actors could be as charmingly hammy as Black. And he actually has a good singing voice. It’s a bit schlocky, but entertaining, not unlike Tenacious D. Isn’t that what matters?

Louiso’s Dick is so self-effacing and passive it’s like he’s hiding inside his clothes. Dick is the anti-Barry. He’s still a music snob, but he assumes the timid, quiet stance. He likes letting lesser-knowing music buffs in on obscure bands as some secret, trace element stuff. It’s along this line that gets Dick a date. To wit, Louiso and Gilbert have an honest chemistry, and their budding relationship reflects Rob’s failed ones in understated, sweet contrast.

There’s a lot of nice touches about relationships in Fidelity. It’s a gentle movie, kinda tender, despite the prickly subject matter. It’s also a guy movie, with Cusack being the spot-on, typical thirty-something man-child, awash in insecurity, facing middle age and exuding weltschmerz from every pore. Us guys get that way. Rob’s love/hate relationship with his music reflecting his love/hate relationship with his past relationships; it’s never blunt, and paired with the smart narration, the message comes across with great humor and flintiness with being preachy. It’s the whole “adding the egg” metaphor here (see the All Is Lost installment). I love the dry humor. It does a great job escalating the tension within the first two acts as it eventually tempers the third descending into sweetness without being saccharine.

To wrap it up, there’s one word to describe Fidelity: satisfying. The story is solid, the acting great, the pacing perfect and it has an intelligent, thoughtful streak running throughout. High Fidelity is probably in my top-five, desert island movies.

Now where could I hook up the DVD and the stereo on a desert island? Well, thank God for Wi-Fi.


The Verdict…

Rent it or relent it? Rent it. Go read the book, too. Check out either one first. And take off those damned headphones.


Stray Observations…

  • “She liked me. She liked me. She liked me. At least I think she did…” No one really ever graduates middle school.
  • Every scene in the store, club or apartment features at least one album I own. I don’t know whether that’s comforting or really, really sad.
  • “A Cosby sweatah!”
  • That Slits album has been bouncing all over the sets. Who wants to wager director Frears is a fan?
  • “How can someone who has no interest in music own a record store?” The very sage Jack Black. Dumbass.
  • Keen use of the Beta Band there. Yeah, I have those albums too.
  • “Do you have soul?” “That all depends…”
  • Jones says “F*ck!” better than I’ve ever heard it anywhere.
  • Rob all alone in the record store. His castle, his prison.
  • “My guts have sh*t for brains!” Hornby.
  • I do miss mixtapes. I’ve made my fair share of mix discs, but it’s just not the same.
  • “I’d never thought I’d say this, but can I go to work now?”

Next Installment…

“Who, as they sung, would take the prison’d soul and lap it in Elysium?” That’s John Milton. Who’d’ve thunk he was into Matt Damon movies?