Like anything else, in cinema when you start with a good idea, it’s hard to go TOO wrong. A professional hit man going back to his high school reunion? It’s the ultimate fish-out-of-water comedy premise, and little-used director George Armitage doesn’t do anything to muck it up. He seems to recognize that in 1997 John Cusack was riding high, and just lets Cusack do his thing—which, in this film, is to put his naturally dry and deadpan humor to good use.
In “Grosse Pointe Blank,” Cusack plays professional assassin Martin Blank, whose secretary (sister Joan, in a second banana role) pushes him into attending his 10th class reunion at Grosse Pointe High School on the outskirts of Detroit. But, of course, he balks.
“They all have husbands and wives and children and houses and dogs, and, you know, they’ve all made themselves a part of something and can talk about what they do. What am I gonna say? I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How’ve you been?”
The story and script come from Tom Jankiewicz, and they’re solid enough that you have to wonder why Jankiewicz never wrote another screenplay. Then again, half of the film could have been ad libbed, for all we know. Though there are complications and other characters, it’s ostensibly The John Cusack Show. Everyone else is “foiled” again, relegated to playing off of him.
Among them is rival assassin Grocer (Dan Akroyd), who urges Martin to join his newly formed association of professional killers, the aim of which is to avoid overlapping and competition for jobs—the need for which is illustrated by a lively opening scene. Then there’s a couple of contract killers led by Steven Lardner (Hank Azaria), and Martin’s psychologist Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin), who terminated his doctor-patient relationship with Martin because he’s afraid of him, but Martin keeps coming back anyway. Even the love interest, local DJ Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver) exists just to play off of Cusack. She’s still angry with him for standing her up on prom night and disappearing from the face of the Earth. Later, she hears his side of it:
“I was sitting there alone on prom night, in a goddamned rented tuxedo, and my whole life flashed before my eyes. And I realized, finally, and for the first time, that I wanted to kill somebody. So I figured since I loved you so much, it’d be a good idea if I didn’t see you anymore.” That is how professional killers are born, and how a movie like this comes full circle.
Though “Grosse Pointe Blank” is a comedy, there’s plenty of action and violence that isn’t so funny . . . and some that is. If the film proves anything, it’s that you can’t go home again . . . if you’re a professional killer, because your past is going to follow you.
Martin looks at the reunion as an opportunity to start anew with Debi, but when rivals and federal agents convene in Grosse Pointe Blank, they kind of take the fun out of it for Martin, but add a little fun for audiences. And through it all, Cusack’s average-guy persona works well to temper the killer elements so that the blend of comedy and violence seems natural.
“Grosse Pointe Blank” is rated R for “strong violence, language, and some drug content.”
“Grosse Pointe Blank” is a little grainy in some scenes, but black levels are solid and there’s a nice level of detail and edge delineation. I saw no visible artifacts from the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 25GB disc, but to my eyes the skin tones tended a little much toward the pink and orange range. Of course, it could have been the era. “Grosse Pointe Blank” is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen, and it’s a marked improvement over the DVD.
I could have used a little more prioritization on the center channel, but otherwise the audio for “Grosse Pointe Blank” is robust and scatters sound nicely across the field. The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, with additional options in French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 and subtitles in English SDH, Spanish and French. The sub could have had a little more presence, but Jerry Bruckheimer didn’t produce this and with no gigantic explosions it’s probably not needed. Dialogue is clear, and when the shots start to zip through the air or hit their targets, it all sounds real enough. Kudos to the sound effects team.
There are no bonus features, despite this being billed as a 15th Anniversary Edition. Go figure.
For John Cusack lovers, “Grosse Pointe Blank” is one of his best, an engaging showcase for his droll demeanor and a seamless blend of comedy and action. It’s light entertainment, in spite of the body count.