The Man in Black: John Cusack in BLOOD MONEY and SINGULARITY

By James Kenney (Adapted from a review originally appearing on whatchareading.com)

BLOOD MONEY

John Cusack, long seemingly disinterested in acting since his solid performances in ADULT WORLD and LOVE & MERCY a near-decade ago disengaged briefly in 2017 from his lively, political and sometimes funny twitter feed to bring some of his long-dormant thespian good humor and timing intact to director Lucky Mckee’s BLOOD MONEY, which, taking place entirely in a forest of browns and grays and featuring only 4 characters, three of them “young,” sounds like it might be the quickest way to catch up on 90 minutes of sleep.

Instead, it ends up being an involving cat & mouse thriller that keeps you on your toes notwithstanding its scanty budget, with director McKee, a guy I’d been hearing about for years without actually seeing a damn thing of his, exhibiting an ability to craft some offbeat character development and reasonable suspense despite the film’s familiar trappings.  Cusack, for a reason he’ll perhaps explain on one day, has been dressing almost exclusively in black for several years now in his genre-driven low-budget exercises, but at least in this one he smokes real cigarettes rather than vapes as he did so conspicuously as the bad guy in RECLAIM,  the not-so-bad guy in DRIVE HARD, and the sort-of-reformed bad guy in THE PRINCE .  In BLOOD MONEY he is a comparatively humanistic thief who drops his ill-gotten gains from a small aircraft he then parachutes from, faking his own death, I presume (the film never actually explains his plan). He doesn’t count on the money plopping down in a river and drifting far from where he lands.  So he starts off aggravated, then grows rather bemused as he witnesses the dysfunction of the three rafter “friends” he comes across who apparently know more about the stolen money then they’re letting on. 

Cusack gives (basically correct) relationship advice to one and by and large feels bad when he wounds/kills people, and when he finally gets the chance to get into it conversationally with Willa Fitzgerald, the girl from the group who has a convoluted (and intriguing) agenda driving the choices she makes, I wished the scene developed further than it actually does, a good sign from an impoverished people-trying-to-kill-each-other-in-a-forest flick.  So kudos to Cusack, Fitzgerald, who is especially good in a tricky role, and McKee, who doesn’t rise above his budget, but does create a sound entertainment with a few memorable bits, and a theme that (inadvertently?) resonates in this #MeToo moment in history.

SINGULARITY

Well, they can’t all be winners. Cusack grabs a paycheck playing a rather taciturn genius madman-designer-of-the-earth’s-doom-I-don’t –know-what-he-is-really who unleashes  a robot, Kronos, who instantly attack and kill off most of mankind.  However a few humans are left, and Cusack also unleashes a young man (actually another humanoid robot, or something) in the hopes he/it will ingratiate itself with the Hunger-Games like heroine who is making her way to the last oasis of mankind on earth. 

Or something like that. 

The film doesn’t make any damn sense, it’s naked ambition to cross HUNGER GAMES with TWILIGHT,  with some TERMINATOR thrown in, a totally uninvolving jumble.  One review I found does help clarify what went on here, as apparently the film was finished a couple of years ago by very young filmmaker Robert Kouba, and featured the two young leads wandering around Czech forests but no Cusack; the sequences with Cusack were added long after the fact to make it sellable, I suppose.  Some of the low-budget effects are OK, the leads (Julian Schaffner and Jeannine Wacker) aren’t hopeless, but Cusack (still dressed all in black, although this time a suit) really doesn’t seem to have any sense of what to do with this character so, like many accomplished performers before him, he underplays to the point of catatonia rather than risk humiliation giving his all for what is clearly a quick hit-the-marks-and-take-the-check job.  If our talented hero is going to stay in the low-budget realm, I’d recommend more BLOOD MONEYs and less of this nonsense, as it does “devalue” his brand; I simply can’t envisage a soul on earth liking SINGULARITY.

2 thoughts on “The Man in Black: John Cusack in BLOOD MONEY and SINGULARITY

    1. Well off the record I think among other things he’s an alcoholic, sigh….also, looks like I’ll be screening the Bogdanovich film on November 19th as part of Martin Scorsese’s Festival of Preservation, and again in December in Huntington at the Cinema Arts Centre….

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