Dir. by George Armitage - 1 hr. 47 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
Sometimes, just making a clever, sly comedy is good enough. But it also helps if it beats other ideas to the punch, and still executes the core premise well. "Grosse Pointe Blank," on it's own merits, is a clever, sly comedy with charming, appealing actors and a good high premise for a film. It's also mining territory that would almost immediately be picked up by other filmmakers.
Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack) is a hitman-for-hire, but work isn't going so well lately. He's also attempting to go to therapy, albeit with a reluctant therapist (Alan Arkin). In a convenient bit of happenstance, a job that Martin is obligated to take on coincides in both timing and location for his ten-year high school reunion. Martin doesn't want anything to do with it, but his secretary (Joan Cusack) insists, and there's no way out of it. Also, Martin had disappeared on prom night with no explanation to anyone, which has led to the one big regret of his life, abandoning his high school girlfriend, Debi (Minnie Driver). As it turns out, Martin's return to Grosse Pointe is a trap, sprung by a rival hitman (Dan Aykroyd), and things predictably (but entertainingly) go straight to hell.
The biggest thing "Grosse Pointe Blank" has going for it is a giddy kind of charm. Cusack plays Martin as a therapy-talk spouting motormouth, and Debi is a DJ (of the radio variety, not of the iPod-for-a-party variety) with impeccable musical taste (I bought both soundtracks when the movie originally came out, and they're both on my Zune (shut up about my Zune!) to this day). And while she's understandably wary of Martin and whatever motivations he may have, it's also clear that time hasn't dulled whatever fondness the two have had for each other. Even Jeremy Piven is really funny (there was a time, pre-"Entourage," when he wasn't considered king of the douchebags). The charms of this movie extend to the approach to both the therapy and high-school reunion themes: this isn't a cynical movie or one that wallows in nostalgia. If there's a message, it centers around the question of how to move forward when you've made missteps along the way. It's a difficult question, and one that may not be sufficiently answered (although Debi, on air, does offer an approach that focuses on acceptance rather than forgiveness being most important).
There's at least two kinds of movies that must be immediately compared to "Grosse Pointe Blank." The first is the high-school reunion film. "Romy & Michelle's High School Reunion" was released roughly at the same time as this one, and is a much more sugary confection. And it feels like it might be about time for a new spate of reunion films, since the only one that I've seen that tries to apply this framework to the 90's was "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," and I'm not sure that anyone would consider that to be a definitive work on the subject. The other idea is the "bad guy in therapy" concept, which wasn't exactly new, but would be exploited again within two years with "Analyze This" and the launch of "The Sopranos" (fun fact: show creator David Chase wrote an episode of "The Rockford Files" in the 70's that centered on a mobster in therapy). This film is neither as glib and broad as "Analyze This," nor as dark and harsh as "The Sopranos," but it did beat both to the punch.
On the whole, "Grosse Pointe Blank" holds up pretty well. I did find myself from time to time trying to do the math to see if Cusack was age-appropriate for this role, but that is more of a function of it being fifteen years later at this point, and the numbers not quite adding up. But this is still a funny film with a killer soundtrack, and a reminder of a time when Minnie Driver was one of the most adorable actresses around. And John Cusack makes the most of his ability to travel around with a cloud over his head, and yet still seem optimistic at the same time. If you're going to wallow in 80's nostalgia (or borrow someone else's, if you're not old enough to have experienced it first-hand), you will almost certainly do worse if you choose any other film.
3.5 / 5 - DVD