Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) — Hitman heads back for his class reunion

“You can never go home again, but I guess you can shop there.”

Justin’s rating: No baby seals were harmed during the making of this film

Justin’s review: “Spring of ’86. Two young lovers with frightening natural chemistry. A girl sits in a seven hundred dollar prom dress on the front steps of her house, waiting for the most romantic night of her young life. Boy never shows up. Not until now.”

That boy in question is Martin Blank, a late-twenties professional hit man. That girl in question is Debi (Minnie Driver), a radio DJ in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. And thus, two specific movie sub-genres (the high school reunion and the hit-man-with-a-heart-of-gold) are smooshed together to create a highly irrelevant and hysterical movie about life, love, wedgies, and semi-automatics.

After Say Anything, Grosse Pointe Blank has to be John Cusack’s finest moment. As Martin, Cusack plays a very likable fellow who still kills people for cash. As his last name and black outfits suggest, he has erased all conscience over his killings yet still struggles over the one big failing his his life: running away from his home and his girlfriend back in high school. Thus, his ten-year reunion gives Martin a perfect excuse to see old friends and family, patch things up with Debi, and perform a vital assignment in the Detroit area.

But, of course, things are never that simple.

What could have been a very dark comedy is elevated into an enjoyable barely-black comedy with the use of a lot of trippy dialogue, outrageous moments, classic eighties tunes (long live The Clash!), and a slew of very talented supporting actors. Alan Arkin plays a frustrated psychiatrist that Martin hounds into treating him, Jeremy Piven plays a sarcastic real estate dealer, Dan Aykroyd is Martin’s crazed arch-nemesis, Joan Cusack is Martin’s off-beat secretary, and Hank Azaria is one of the FBI agents assigned to track Martin down.

In the midst of these characters and situations, Martin is both on the top of his game (when it comes to dealing with violence and protection) and utterly lost (when it comes to filling people in to where he’s been for ten years). His nervousness comes out in a funny stream of babble, constantly frustrated and bewildered, particularly when he discovers that his home has been sold to pave the way for a convenience store.

As a high school reunion film, Grosse Pointe Blank has a lot to say on the subject. Some of the characters, Martin included, could never quite shed the high school monkey on their back, no matter what new profession they undertook. It’s a perpetually awkward experience to come back to a place you thought you left for good. And the eighties theme that runs through the film (in music, fashion, and homages to ’80s flicks) is strongly nostalgic in the mid-nineties era in which this movie is placed.

To say I have a blast watching this film each time is a vast understatement. Whether your penchant be for action, romance, humor, con games, or character studies (and I like all these things), Grosse Pointe Blank has ’em all. A couple moments allow Cusack to shine, such as a quiet moment when he holds a baby and they stare at each other for a good half minute. There are a few fun twists that make re-watching this movie a rewarding experience, and I think it would be a killer (pun intended) idea to be a professional hit man if I ever had to attend my high school reunion. The possibilities abound.

Kym’s rating: Four out of four deadly pens

Kym’s review: What a great movie this turned out to be! This movie is the story of hit man Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack in a deliciously warped role) who returns to his hometown for his high school reunion after a ten-year absence, specifically to see the girl (Minnie Driver) that he abandoned on prom night. I suppose that you could call this a romantic movie with a twist. Martin still is in love with Debi, but she’s unsure how to feel since he’s just shown up out of the blue.

There’s some touching moments in between them, when they see each other for the first time and when he “airplanes” her, for example. There’s also this awesome fighting scene between Martin and another hit man that will make you look at complimentary pens in a different light, and the shoot out that they have before is so over-the-top that it’s just great.

Grosse Pointe Blank is an oddly touching movie about second chances, and I think that most people will enjoy it despite the violent content.

Kyle’s rating: Screw it! I’m skipping my reunion.

Kyle’s review: I’m not ashamed to say that even though I’m a total macho guy, lovin’ blood and guts and violence and stuff, I like Grosse Pointe Blank for the love story. You can take away the profession hitman angle (quite the ingenious touch, however!) and this movie is about a guy kinda fed up with his job who decides to rethink his life choices and see if an old yet memorable romance is up for rekindling; his struggle set against his 10-year high school reunion. Good stuff.

Why is this movie so darn fantastic? Hmm. John Cusack is perfect as the ice-cold assassin who is starting to get turned off by the monotony of his job, years of adeptly keeping everyone away is making him wonder if he can ever let anyone close. Minnie Driver, who I will always like for appearing in a Bond flick, is just as perfect as a quirky chick with ten years of angst, self-loathing and hostility raging inside of her. Thankfully, she channels it into a crazy radio talk show and wry observations. And the supporting cast does their share: Joan Cusack, Dan Aykroyd, and the rest do their comic-serious thing and keep us laughing so long we forget there are people dying here.

Damn it, this movie is just great! High school reunions are crazy for everyone, so this is like a fantasy where we can live vicariously through Martin, who in the end has a pretty good reunion. And if you’re a dropout, you can live vicariously through the Doom-loving gas station kid. He’s pretty funny too!

Clare’s rating: Full of ass-kicking goodness

Clare’s review: It will come as no surprise to anyone that I, being the freak for all things John Cusack that I am, would thoroughly enjoy and recommend this movie. I have a weakness for Mr. Cusack’s charms and really, besides Con Air and Pushing Tin, I’m pretty sure he can do no wrong. So, having gotten that bias right out in the open from the start, here are a few other good reasons why this movie is worth a trip to the local video emporium of your choice.

1) Besides John Cusack, this movie is sporting some major talent in the supporting cast including Minnie Driver, Alan Arkin, Dan Akroyd, Hank Azaria, the lovely and talented Joan Cusack and of course, since it’s a JC flick, Jeremy Piven. If getting tired of looking at John Cusack is humanly possible or if you’re one of the non-believers who doesn’t quite get why JC is an extraordinary example of what a real man should be, there’s plenty of other really funny and interesting performances to keep you entertained. Joan Cusack and Alan Arkin are especially amazing to behold.

2) The soundtrack to this movie is, without hesitation, one of the top 10 best soundtracks of all time in the history of all cinema. There’s music playing in practically every scene and its ALL good. The ’80s produced some rather horrific music as a decade but somehow the soundtrack folks on Grosse Pointe Blank found a veritable treasure trove of seldom heard gems to use as the backdrop for the action here. Standouts to listen for include “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes, “You’re Wondering Now” by the Specials, “Monkey Gone to Heaven” by the Pixies and “Mirror in the Bathroom” by the English Beat.

3) The story is intriguing. Some would consider this a necessity for a movie to be considered good, but, as previously stated, my thing for John Cusack forgives a lot of sins. Luckily, the plot is actually interesting and the execution of it is sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching, sometimes exhilarating and always fresh. What I most appreciate about it is that many of the scenes seem clearly improvised or are at least acted between people who have obvious chemistry. My favorite scene, and I’m very happily surprised it got into the final edit, occurs when Martin (JC) and Jeremy Piven’s character Paul Spericki are driving down the road together catching up. They do the scene once and it’s pretty funny but then immediately afterwards a second take is edited in only this time JP really lays on the ham and starts screaming and honking the horn. At the end of the scene they both crumble into laughter and for about three seconds you can see that it’s just John Cusack and Jeremy Piven cracking each other up for kicks. Very cool.

4) I’ve always maintained that John Cusack is a sexy sexy man since back in the days of Sixteen Candles even. What I love about this movie is that he gets to actually BE sexy, smooth, skinny tied, in shape, and bad assed. There’s a really fun and convincing fight scene, he shoots guns, saves the girl and really gets to show off his ability to be a leading man. He seems very comfortable in his own skin and more graceful than in his younger roles. The gawkiness of his youth has been fading ever since Say Anything, but here he’s a MAN, fully grown, confident and very much in charge. It’s a treat.

PoolMan’s rating: Dazed and confused…

PoolMan’s review: I don’t know what it is about John Cusack. Although I don’t have the urge to roll naked on his picture like some of the staff around here, I really do like the guy as an actor. He’s a whiz with deadpan comedy, uses subtle facial movements with great effect, and sucks an audience into his performance on a regular basis. It’s just too bad that he, along with Adam Sandler, can only play one character: himself.

The only real difference between the characters I’ve seen Cusack play is their occupation. In Better Off Dead, he’s a student. In High Fidelity, he’s a record shop owner. In Grosse Pointe Blank, he’s a hitman. You’d think that for three radically different roles, he’d bring three radically different characters. But lo and behold, we have the same metaphor spewing, angst ridden, wimpy tough guy with a heart of gold. Now granted, in Better Off Dead he was a pretty young guy, so he doesn’t come off as so bleak. But still, he’s always been the master of the stone face that manages to be expressive. So he’s perfect for a movie about an angst ridden hitman with a heart of gold and a penchant for spewing metaphors.

And I’ll tell you what else, too. I… hey, hang on, someone’s knocking. Hold on a sec.

“Oh, hi Clare! How’re you doing? I was just…”
“I know what you’re doing. Prepare to DIE!!!”

Phew! Time I got to the positive part of the review, methinks. Otherwise I may end up on the business end of a baseball bat. Again.

What GPB has going for it is some really good stuff. There are elements of dark comedy that had me laughing good and hard. The shootout in the Ultimart springs to mind… that’s a very surreal scene. I guess the bottom line for me is that the hit man story and the old flame were interesting and fun (even if Minnie Driver seems to be on a hallucinogenic during every scene she’s in).

Where I lost interest was the reunion itself. Booooooooring. If there’s anything I can’t stand, it’s trying to hold a conversation with someone I don’t really want to talk to. I went into a bookstore last week and ended up talking to three different people I hadn’t seen in five or more years, and I thought I was never going to get home. The reunion scene just reeked of this. And while it’s satirical and clever and droll and all that, I found myself longing to fast forward.

So there you have it. There are moments of coolness and humour, and the scene with the baby had me absolutely entranced (I love babies, I don’t know what it is. They’re the best people there are.). The hitman action was cool, and a supporting role by Canadian Dan Aykroyd (at least SOMEone can spell his name right) were all great. But the movie was about 20 minutes too long, and I would have cut it all out of the reunion scene. I also might have changed the ending to something that made a little more sense. I guess I really wanted to love this movie, but didn’t. Oh well. One mutant out of a zillion others ain’t bad.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to outrun Clare before she finds where I hid her chainsaw… ciao!

Didja notice?

  • Outside the Ultimart, “Live and Let Die” blasts over the soundtrack. When Martin goes inside, the music switches to a muzak version of the same song.
  • Ultimart kid playing Doom II
  • Amy (the drunk woman) is yet another Cusack – Ann Cusack
  • During the Ultimart fight, a Pulp Fiction standup is shot to shreds, and the Doom game has a label saying “Just what you’ve been dying for”
  • The attempt to kill the bicycle messenger as he rides down the hill in the first scene is a reference to the “I want my two dollars” bike-riding paperboy who menaces John Cusack’s character in Better Off Dead…
  • The attempted poisoning by string is a reference to You Only Live Twice
  • Martin shuts the venetian blinds at the radio station, but we see an open set when he sits back down. Those blinds are on a different window.
  • After Grocer is knocked out with a television set, he twitches in response to the sound of an electrical current – but the television set is unplugged. An unplugged set, due to the large capacitors, still contains a great deal of power.
  • Debi drives a convertible. In Detroit. That’s useful for three months out of the year!

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