Grosse Pointe Blank
Screenplay : Tom Jankiewicz and D.V. DeVincentis & Steve Pink & John Cusack
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1997
Stars : John Cusack (Martin Q. Blank), Minnie Driver (Debi Newberry), Alan Arkin (Dr. Oatman), Dan Aykroyd (Mr. Grocer), Joan Cusack (Marcella), Hank Azaria (Lardner), K. Todd Freeman (McCullers), Mitchell Ryan (Mr. Newberry), Jeremy Piven (Paul Spericki)
"Grosse Pointe Blank" is a rather odd movie that seems to exist in a world that is just slightly askew of our own. Granted, everything looks the same -- houses, trees, cars, stores -- but all the characters and situations presented here are just a little off balance; everything people in this movie do or say is just weird enough to constantly keep you on your toes.
Of course, this is hardly surprising about a movie whose main character, Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack), is a professional hitman with a developing conscience, who attends his tenth high school reunion, in part to make a kill as reparations for botching an earlier job. He returns to his home town of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, to find that the girl he stood up on prom night in order to join the army is still there working as a disc jockey at the local radio station, his mother is in a home getting pumped up on lithium, and his childhood home has been torn down in exchange for a convenience store. All that on top of job pressure coming from his arch rival, Mr. Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), who is trying to get him to join a hitman's union that he doesn't want to be a part of.
While this is all very odd, it's also very funny. It's a not a laugh-out-loud kind of funny, but more an internal chuckle, the kind that seems more and more humorous the more you think about it. The mere idea of a professional killer attending his high school reunion is an interesting idea, and the movie milks the big scene for as much as it's worth. Added to the usual awkwardness of being forced into a room with a bunch of people you didn't like very much ten years ago, there is also a rival assassin trying to knock off Martin while he's repairing his broken relationship with Debi (Minnie Driver), the girl he left ten years ago. How many high school reunion movies have a body being dumped into the school boiler while the '80s trash classic "99 Luftballoons" plays in the background?
"Grosse Pointe Blank" doesn't want to be your average movie, and it's not. You can feel it reaching for some kind of nether world of black comedy that most movies don't even try for. There's inherent difficulty in mixing broad comedy, sly wit, and outright violence into one seamless package, and "Grosse Pointe Blank" almost pulls it off in an inane, goofy kind of way.
As I said before, no one seems to react in a normal manner to any given situation. This is especially true of when Martin and Debi see each other for the first time in ten years in her D.J. booth. There's some shock, disbelief, then a quick passionate kiss, then awkwardness, then she sits him down and grills him over the radio and allows listeners to call in and give her advice about what to do. Or, whenever someone asks Martin what he does, he doesn't bother lying, but just says, "Uh, professional killer." And, what are their responses? "Oh...you get dental with that?" "Do you have to do post-graduate work for that?" "Good for you. Growth industry."
John Cusack was an ideal choice for the lead role. He has a dark side that combines well with his natural humor and intelligence; it's also amusing to see him at a ten-year high school reunion knowing that he started his film career playing awkward teenagers in movies like "Better Off Dead" (1985) and "Say Anything..." (1989). Minnie Driver, who prior to this film had made her biggest splash in "Circle of Friends," shows that she can hold her own in a big cast and do a passable American accent. Alan Arkin is absolutely hilarious as Martin's therapist, a man not entirely comfortable with the notion of counseling a hitman. The only casting downfall is Aykroyd; while he is amusing as always, he just doesn't fit the bill as a hard-nosed killer. He has some good moments, but he is generally miscast as Mr. Grocer.
At times, "Grosse Pointe Blank" really hits the mark (especially with its great retro-'80s soundtrack), but at other times it feels light and confused. This may be because no less that four writers had their hands on the script (including actor Cusack), almost all of which are first-time scribes.
The director, George Armitage, is returning from a seven-year hiatus after writing and directing the darkly comedic 1990 crime film "Miami Blues." Armitage comes from the Roger Corman school of hack filmmaking (along with Jonathan Demme, who co-produced "Miami Blues"), and here he proves that he has talent and potential. Even the obligatory gun battles have an extra bit of spice that make them stand out from the standard fare. And, even though the ending is a bit contrived and more violent than it needs be, it is still just odd enough to keep pace with the rest of the movie. Definitely not for everybody, but you can't say it's not original.
©1997 James Kendrick