John Cusack, the aging wunderkind (now 34), with some excellent film work to his credit, including the delightful "Grosse Point Blank," has evidently exerted his box-office power and co-produced, co-written, and now stars in "High Fidelity," based on the British popular novel of a few years ago about a young man who owns a collectors' record store and has many problems with women. Whatever charm and wit there might have been in the novel have been carefully excised by one or all of the above job categories, and left us with 107 minutes of deadly tedium. I might point out that comedies with four credited writers usually have big problems, and this is no exception.
Cusack has hired Stephen Frears to direct, he of "My Beautiful Laundrette" and "The Grifters," but for the most part all Frears has had to do is set up the camera for closeups of Cusack, who talks to the audience ad nauseum about the inability of women to stay interested in him. And they certainly have good reason, since he is monumentally consumed with himself and has not the slightest ability to give anything to anyone else. Is he aware of that little failing? Well, about five minutes before the end of the film he has what you might call a mini-epiphany that lets him find the words to tell his current love Laura (Iben Hjejle) that he wants to marry her. She accepts, in order to give the film an ending, but let's hope she changes her mind before the wedding.
What's particularly maddening about the film is that it has everything it needed to be a delicious comedy instead of the plodding, turgid, repetitive, count-the-minutes-till-the-end failure it is. The setup is fine: Cusack is Rob, the owner of Championship Vinyl, a collectors' record store in Chicago, saddled with a Laurel-and Hardy pair of sales clerks: the meek Dick (Todd Louiso), who lacks even the most basic sales tools, and the brash, vicious snob Barry (Jack Black), who tells off a father who wants to buy Stevie Wonder's "I just called to say I love you" for his daughter. "Do you even know your daughter?" he asks. "Do you really think she'd even listen to this? Get out of here!"
The three trade top-5 lists of everything, including the top five songs they want played at their funerals. But every time the film picks up that kind of momentum, Cusack turns to the camera to whine once more about how unhappy he is with his love affairs. He is endlessly on screen to tell us about every woman who left him, starting with his brief (three-day) girlfriend in seventh grade, and continuing up to the present, in great and boring detail. If the monologues were at least witty or showed some self-awareness they might have taken the curse off the film, but they are nothing but self-pity strung out endlessly. Cusack plays at least three scenes in full torrential-rainstorm mode, probably because Frears was desperate to find some kind of interesting location for the monologues.
Is there anything to salvage from the debacle? The end credits are brilliant, set like rock-band posters against a wall. But th-th-th-that's all, folks.