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Grosse Pointe Blank   B+

Hollywood Pictures

Year Released: 1997
MPAA Rating: R
Director: George Armitage
Writers: Tom Jankiewicz, D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack
Cast: John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, Joan Cusack, Jeremy Piven.

Review by Gauti Fridriksson

John Cusack has something special going for him. I can't quite pin it down, but there's a certain likability about him that elevates most of his performances above the sum total of his words and gestures. Very often he exudes a certain kind of resigned hopelessness that somehow makes us instantly sympathetic and makes him all the more affable (see Being John Malkovich and High Fidelity). And thus it's particularly interesting to see him cast as a morally challenged professional killer in 1997's charming Grosse Pointe Blank, a dark, dark, dark comedy about love, murder and, of course, high school reunions.

Cusack plays Martin Blank, a mild-mannered hit man with his fair share of problems. He has the Jimmy Hoffa of assassins breathing down his neck (Dan Aykroyd in one of his rapid-fire performances), he has a therapist who's mortally terrified of him (Alan Arkin, perplexed and stuttering), and he has recurring dreams about his high school sweetheart Debi (Minnie Driver), whom he stood up on prom night 10 years ago. As if that weren't enough, his altogether daffy secretary (Joan Cusack, in an overwrought festival of facial contortion) keeps pestering him about going to his high school reunion in his home town of Grosse Pointe, MI -- a place he left behind long ago (around the time it first hit him that he "wanted to kill somebody"). And to top it all off, he's just been given a very important job that requires him to travel to Detroit, which incidentally Grosse Pointe is a suburb of. Coincidence? "The Gods want you to go to Grosse Pointe," gushes his secretary, all but foaming at the mouth. So off he goes.

I will recount no more of the plot here; suffice it to say the movie does a very adequate job of filling the quota of interesting twists and turns one comes to expect from this type of comedy. The dialogue is wonderful (scripted by Tom Jankiewicz and Cusack himself), and what action there is is powerfully executed (in particular a hand-to-hand combat scene in which a common desktop utensil is employed in a painfully unorthodox manner). Cusack's and Aykroyd's hit men are an interesting mix; on the one hand, they're portrayed in a humorous light that sometimes comes close to caricature (and this is particularly the case with Aykroyd), but on the other there's something undeniably realistic and believable about them and the way they conduct their work.

That is, all the way up until the final scene, which constitutes pretty much my only gripe. All the moral questions and character development that the film has presented to us (which, being a comedy, it admittedly presents with a wink and a nudge) are thrown into a maelstrom of bullets, blood and black humor, almost as if the filmmakers were throwing away their message in a fit of destructive self-parody. It's a jarring counterpoint to the mood presented up until that point, and it served to slightly undermine my enjoyment of this otherwise delightful film.

It's not quite as bad as I'm making it sound, though. Grosse Pointe Blank is essentially a light-hearted movie, and as such can be forgiven for shifting its tone around a bit. I still thoroughly enjoyed it for its lovely performances (Minnie Driver is particularly captivating), its great script, its quirky feel and some riotously funny moments. If you're not overly annoyed by thematic inconsistencies, then this one is definitely worth your time.

Review published 03.26.2001.

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