High Fidelity suggests how easy it is to get your life stuck in a groove, especially if you're one of those guys who arranges his record collection not alphabetically and not chronologically but autobiographically, each plate of vinyl an emotional marker. For John Cusack's Rob, owner of a used record store in Chicago, music isn't just the soundtrack of life but life itself. Or is it a substitute for life? When the movie opens, Rob's just been dropped by his girlfriend, Laura (Iben Hjejle), which sends him into a soul-searching investigation of whether Laura's cracked the Top Five on his All-Time Breakup List. Old girlfriends appear in flashbacks, like love songs on a compilation tape, and we're struck by how boyishly clueless Rob is, then and now. Thirty-two going on 18, he's never figured out what he wants to be when he grows up. Based on a novel by England's Nick Hornby, High Fidelity is for anyone who's ever immersed him- or herself in pop culture to the point of nearly drowning. The movie both celebrates and denigrates the kind of connoisseurship that can lead to arguments over whether an album from 20 years ago had a "the" in the title, and it's at its best when we're just hanging around the record store with Rob and his two employees, Dick (Todd Louiso) and Barry (Jack Black). Dick, who looks like a human embryo, wouldn't hurt a flea. Barry rips customers limb from limb if they like the wrong music. As for the rest of the movie, it's a little too soggy. The scriptwriters (the same guys who wrote Grosse Point Blank, including Cusack) and director Stephen Frears have transplanted the story from London to Chicago, but they've kept the rain...lots and lots of rain.
Maybe that's why Cusack seems like he has a cold. Then again, he always seems like he has a cold, which sometimes works for the character he's playing and sometimes doesn't. Here, it seems perfectly in keeping with a guy who doesn't get enough sun, but it also gives the movie a nasally whine, as if it's been sniffing too much disk-cleaner fluid. To its credit, I suppose, High Fidelity doesn't go for false cheer. That would be like listening to an entire Peter Frampton record.