May 6 2011
Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
It’ll soon be that time of year again, when we get contacted about the organized hell that are High School Reunions. “Festivals of Pain” as one character here calls this one, when we see people we’ve barely thought of in 10, 20, 30 years and wince as we look back on our class pictures. But wouldn’t it be nice if you could arrive and casually mention that you’re a professional killer? That’d get some looks!
With apologies to “Afterburner” I’m going to snag, but slightly modify, the IMDB synopsis of the plot.
Martin Blank (John Cusak) is a freelance hitman who starts to develop a conscience, which causes him to muff a couple of routine assignments. On the advice of his secretary (Joan Cusak) and his psychiatrist (Alan Arkin), he attends his 10th year High School reunion in Grosse Pointe, Michigan (a Detroit suburb where he’s also contracted to kill someone). Hot on his tail are a couple of over-enthusiastic federal agents (Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman), another assassin who wants to kill him, and Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), an assassin who wants him to join an “Assassin’s Union.” Plus there’s his high school sweetheart (Minnie Driver) he left waiting in her prom dress 10 years ago who might, or might not, want to figuratively kill him too.
On someone’s advice from a previous review, forgive me I can’t recall who or which review, I put this one in the rental queue and loved it. I’ve since added it to my growing DVD collection – doing these reviews is playing fun havoc with my credit card – and enjoy it each time I pull it out. It also serves to solidify my certainty that I will never attend a class reunion if I can possibly avoid it. Gah!
Popcorn! I love the assassin “spy vs spy” (for those of you who’ve ever read Mad Magazine) stuff that Blank and Grocer engage in. The careful meetings where each has one hand on his gun and the final showdown when we see that television – or in this case A television – really can kill you! The firefight at the Ultimart is hilarious too.
Minnie Driver is fantastic as Martin’s abandoned girlfriend who gives him hell “on the air” when he shows up after 10 years. She manages to avoid doing “bitter” or “my life stopped 10 years ago and I’ve never gotten over you” while retaining a confident sense of humor and not letting Martin off the hook. She makes it easy to see why Martin would never have forgotten her and decides to turn his life around to keep her in it.
John Cusak is Martin Blank, a sort of loner who discovered a moral flexibility while in the Army which has allowed him to become a rich professional killer. And I’m amazed at how many people in town he tells what he does for a living as well as their humorous responses to the news. “Do you get dental with that?” His sister Joan cracks me up as Martin’s secretary who needles him into going to the reunion as she coolly orders more hollow point bullets for him. She definitely deserves the profit sharing.
And then there’s the reunion when Martin discovers that a real friend really will help him dispose of the body. As well as being able to get pens, have a chance to break into his old locker, put those motivational hall banners to actual good use and dance to oldies but goodies. The soundtrack for the film is fabulous. I love the stuff he comes up with before heading to the High School to tell people what he’s done with his life. Pet psychiatrist, couch insurance, test marketing positive thinking and leading a men’s group – “We specialize in ritualized killings.”
But wait, there’s more! The final showdown during which Martin saves the day, ponders the meaning of his life and what he’s done for the past few years then proposes to Debi is worth the price of admission. I laughed myself silly when Martin finishes up one assassin by bashing him with a frying pan. I will say that the Newberry house is going to need a lot of refurb’ing before going back on the market, though.
The film is clever, funny, with action sequences so OTT that you can sit back and enjoy them as entertainment and not worry that you’re laughing at and with assassins. It has a strong heroine and an introspective killer hero who truly seems to have a “newfound respect for life.” The music is great, the actors are well cast and it’s certainly not your usual rom-com. Here’s a big “Thanks!” to whoever recommended it to me.