High Fidelity Movie Review

There's nothing more annoying than a music geek. You know, the kind of guy who hangs out in record stores reminiscing about Camper Van Beethoven, Stereolab, and the roots of Green Day.

As such, a movie full of music geeks may seem a little unbearable, and in a lot of ways, High Fidelity is. That it manages to often redeem itself is the biggest surprise in the movie, and not for the reasons you might think.

Let's start out with what doesn't work. For starters, purist fans of Nick Hornby's novel will be disappointed to find their favorite record store moved from England to Chicago. John Cusack's Rob is, of course, not British -- he's a typical Yank with a perpetually broken heart. Rob spends much (or all) of the film narrating to the screen, as if the moviegoer is in the room with him, wherever he goes. This gets old, awfully fast, quickly losing its charm and becoming obvious as a crutch used to mask lazy, sloppy writing.

Rob is also as shallow as they come. He lives his life like a Billboard chart. Everything is a "top five," and the movie centers around his current girlfriend Laura (the fittingly unknown Iben Hjejle -- her real name!) leaving him, thus entering the charts as his #5 Heartbreaker.

The problem isn't really Rob's shallowness; it's that Laura turns out to be pretty worthless as well. Hjejle clearly has no chemistry with Cusack, and her character has no redeeming qualities either except that "she smells good." (And you have to take Cusack's word on that.) On the road to getting Laura back, Rob visits the rest of the top 5 heartbreakers -- including Catherine Zeta-Jones and Lili Taylor, but nothing really comes of this. The song of Rob's life remains utterly the same. (There's even an inexplicable fling with Lisa Bonet of The Cosby Show fame, particularly ironic since the 80s standard is mocked elsewhere in the film.)

Fortunately, throw Jack Black (best known as Matthew Broderick's friend in The Cable Guy) into any of the above scenes and it becomes a laugh riot. You will forget about the rest of the movie (think Empire Records grown up) when Black struts his stuff. The man should kill Adam Sandler and takeover his life as a real comedian. Demure newcomer Todd Louiso, like Black an employee in Rob's record store, provides excellent counterpoint to Black's over-the-top character. Literally, the scenes in Rob's store are so funny they make you forget about the rest of the film.

A hilarious supporting role by a pony-tailed Tim Robbins notwithstanding, that "rest of the film" is pretty much a drag. It's uniformly shallow and vapid, and the reliance on Hjejle (imagine Mia Farrow with a bad haircut and a language barrier) to carry a lead role was a fatal error for High Fidelity's producers. All the talk of avant-garde bands may make you envious of the boundless musical knowledge these guys possess. Or, like me, you may just want to skip to the tracks you like.

Cusack pouts, Black punches.


High Fidelity Rating

" OK "

Rating: R, 2000


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