(Video on Demand, August 2015) What happened with John Cusak for him to show up in so many this-side-of-straight-to-video thrillers, usually as the ambiguously bad guy? I’m not sure, but Reclaim could have been a bit worse without him. The story of two Americans who travel abroad to pick up their newly-adopted daughter, Reclaim soon turns into a nightmare as the young girl disappears and it becomes clear that the two protagonists have been conned out of their money by unscrupulous organized thieves. Things escalate before long, as they try to bring in police to uncover the plot. Rachelle Lefebvre gets a good role as the woman, while Ryan Phillipe continues his recent comeback with a generic but sympathetic role. Elsewhere, Luis Guzman gets to shine as an honest cop trying to help, while John Cusak lets his charm fool us as to whether he’s truly good or bad. Benefitting from some good location vistas in Puerto Rico, Reclaim does have a nice sense of narrative forward rhythm. While the ending gets a bit long and unlikely while some of the evens are predictable, the film is wrapped up nicely enough not to make us resent the time spent watching it. As for Cusak, I don’t know: vacations, unpaid debt, unexplainable fondness for the theme? All I’m saying is that without his name, I wouldn’t have watched the film.
(In theaters, September 2001) An audience can forgive a lot of stupid stuff if only for two characters to end up together forever. Going to a romantic comedy built around the concept of serendipity, however, looks a lot like an invitation to be indulgent about 90+ minutes of coincidences. And, as a matter of fact, that’s pretty much what happens in Serendipity, another romance spoiled by its trailer, but first and foremost by sheer scriptwriting laziness. The fault certainly isn’t with the actors: Both leads John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale look as adorable as they should. Even the bit-players are surprisingly fun. Heck, even the first half of the film is amusing with its narrow misses, good-natured humor and general dynamism. It’s toward the end that the writer takes the easy way out. Something significant happens out of the blue, without any further explanation. Characters are gleefully forgotten out of the picture. A central romantic dilemma is never solved. Oh, and our two leads meet again in a completely non-climactic fashion. The whole film seems to lead to a big conclusion that deflates before impact. Sure, the two protagonists live happily ever after… but it’s still unsatisfying. And thus Serendipity fails Romance 101.