Nobody knows “a good thing” when they see it more than Hollywood. Which is why when a filmmaker strikes on a particularly interesting subject (i.e. a killer asteroid threatens all life on Earth) there will usually be two or three other groups in the same town writing their own version of said subject. The Killer Asteroid idea is a case in point — besides two big blockbuster films on the subject (Armageddon and Deep Impact) there was a TV mini-series called “Asteroids” and a host of other, smaller productions on TV or direct-to-video. Another case in point is the Killer Tornado idea that came a few years before the Killer Asteroid fad.
When 1996’s Grosse Pointe Blank came out, it wasn’t the first Dysfunctional Criminal Sees a Shrink movie of its year. Besides the Robert De Niro mob comedy Analyze This (where a mob boss (De Niro) goes to see a shrink) there was the HBO TV show “The Sopranos” just gearing up for production. Not soon after, there was the wonderful Panic with William H. Macy, and others in-between and better left unexplored.
Grosse Pointe Blank stars John Cusack as Martin Blank, a professional hitman who is having an increasingly hard time justifying his lucrative profession. But that’s the least of Martin’s problem. A fellow hitman name Grocer (Dan Aykroyd) is trying to kill him because Martin won’t join his union. If that wasn’t bad enough, Martin has just gotten an invitation to his 10th high school reunion! Martin’s reluctant shrink (Alan Arkin) convinces Martin to go to the reunion, mostly because the shrink is terrified of Martin and wants to get rid of him any way he can. Back at his old stomping ground after a 10-year absence, Martin has to confront his past, his family, and his ex-girlfriend Debi (Minnie Driver) who he dumped on Prom Night. If facing a woman scorn, a dysfunctional family, and bad high school memories wasn’t enough to destroy Martin’s already fragile psyche, Grocer and two FBI agents have followed Martin back home and both have plans for him…
John Cusack (Serendipity) makes Grosse Pointe Blank work. The actor has more than a casual hand with the film, and acts as producer and one of the writers. This is essentially Cusack’s movie, and everyone else, including the director, are hired hands. It’s Cusack’s paranoia, his flippant attitude about his profession (he tells everyone he’s a hitman if they ask), and his charm that carries the movie from beginning to end.
Like all movie hitmen, Martin Blank isn’t really a bad guy, since he only kills those “who deserves it.” This is a cheat, of course, but considering that the movie is something of a spoof on the hitman genre, it’s not all that big of a deal. The movie also has a lot of fun with Martin’s profession and how everyone he meets at the reunion thinks he’s being a jokester when he tells him or her he kills people for a living. An old friend played by Jeremy Piven replies (after Martin tells him he’s a hitman), “Do you get dental with that?” The movie’s one running gag is that no one takes Martin seriously when he confesses his occupation, and it’s quite funny to see the nonchalant way people react to his declarations.
Grosse Pointe Blank could be called a Romantic Comedy masquerading as a Hitman film — up to a point. Martin’s Prom Night dumping of Minnie Driver (High Heels and Low Lifes) takes up much of the film’s focus once Martin returns home, and thankfully Driver is quite good and likable. The two leads have good chemistry, and Driver’s public humiliation of Martin via live on the radio when he first arrives in town is believable. Debi’s woman scorned — but still in love — makes a nice counterpart to Martin’s paranoid — but correctly so — hitman.
The film’s other highpoint is Cusack’s interaction with his high school buddy Paul, played by Piven, whose character feels betrayed that his best buddy just took off without saying goodbye. The two recently starred together again in Serendipity, and seeing how easy they work together, it’s a good bet we’ll see more of them in the same movies and same roles. Piven seems destined for sidekick roles, since he’s too short and, well, is losing his hair fast. The phrase, “Not leading man type” comes to mind, although I’ve always been fond of his characters.
The movie does falter a bit when it wanders into action category. The movie tries to have it both ways — it wants its gunfights to be realistic, but the end result is much too cartoonish and outlandish. For instance, there are a number of very violent, bloody action scenes, one in the middle when Martin takes on a hitman hired to kill him, and the climaxing gunfight with Aykroyd’s Grocer. Considering the film was so tongue-in-cheek throughout, the stark violence of those two scenes were somewhat jarring. The action really makes one question if the filmmakers knew what kind of film they wanted to make, and as a result Grosse Point Blank feels “off” somehow.
“Off”, but good in an odd sort of way.
George Armitage (director) / George Armitage, John Cusack (screenplay)
CAST: John Cusack …. Marty Blank
Minnie Driver …. Debi Newberry
Alan Arkin …. Dr. Oatman
Dan Aykroyd …. Mr. Grocer
Joan Cusack …. Marcella
Jeremy Piven …. Paul Spericki