GROSSE POINT BLANK, 1997
Directed By George Armitage
Starring John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Minnie Driver, Dan Aykroyd, Jeremy Piven
Review by Christopher Upton
Finding himself dissatisfied with his life as a professional killer, Martin Blank returns home to take stock of his life, visit his high school reunion and make one final hit. Nothing could ever be simple though and while he attempts to make it up to his jilted date before the big reunion, he has to contend with a large collection of men trying to kill him.
Contract killers aren’t known for being the warmest of characters. As such you’d think it’d be difficult to get a whole load of laughs from them, unless of course Dan Aykroyd and John Cusack play them. Sarcastic and silly combine to create a hilarious situation comedy with the added bonus thrill of knowing that either of the two leads could be killed at any moment. Talk about edge of your seat comedy.
Martin Blank (Cusack) is having an existential crisis; he’s girlfriendless, childless, his therapist is scared of him and he’s lost the taste for his work, which just so happens to be shooting people in the head. All of this is bought home to him when he receives an invitation to his ten-year high school reunion. Though he refuses to go fate conspires to send him back to Grosse point to face the music for abandoning the town and its inhabitants.
It’s not all existential though as he has a very real crisis to contend with. His colleague Grocer (Aykroyd) is trying to get him to join his killers union and he’s very insistent that they join forces. So insistent in fact that he has hired government-contracted killers to take him out if he refuses. On top of this there is a bounty on his head for a job gone wrong involving an over friendly dog and some explosives.
Being killed strangely becomes the least of Martin’s worries though, when he runs into an old flame that he abandoned on prom night ten years ago and feelings are reignited. So now he must win back the girl and re-evaluate his life while at the same time trying to remain bullet hole free. Not many people would be able to tie so many strings together so convincingly but John Cusack as Martin Blank is such a brilliantly sarcastic and quick-witted performance that you know if anyone can, he can.
The character maintains a near constant narration of his life telling everyone his anxieties, almost Woody Allen-esque. While this might seem like an annoying trait if handled by anyone else, Cusack manages to make it endearing, making Martin Blank very relatable if you ignore the killing part.
Outside of Pulp Fiction professional killers are all portrayed in a pretty similar way; they have some variety of deep inner torment and they are remorseless, lonely, psychopaths. In Grosse Point Blank the killers have personalities and ingratiate themselves to the audience; something that is particularly difficult to do when your job is to get rid of people. In fact, Grocer and Blank don’t just make you feel comfortable with them; you actually end up in a bizarre way emphasising with them because of their charisma. As Martin Blank says, “If I show up at your door, chances are you did something to bring me there.”
It isn’t just the leads that perform excellently though. The shockingly overlooked Jeremy Piven plays an old friend of Martin Blank, still living in the town that he hates and is hilariously bitter because of it. The blasÈ government guns for hire, in the form of Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman, are so laid back that the only thing that can get them out of their job inspired stupor is making fun of these violent killers. This makes them equally funny and monstrous and every bit as bad as the people they are after.
One of the most impressive things about Grosse Point Blank is there isn’t really a bad performance in it. Even the smallest characters are perfectly formed little caricatures that manage to squeeze laughs out of every inch of the film. This also has a lot to do with the script, which is frenetic in it’s pacing, rarely passing a scene without inserting some kind of witty one liner or aside. This means that if you aren’t paying attention a lot will go past you, but it also means that if you miss one joke there’ll be another one along in a second.
The script excels in making mockeries of some very dark situations and deriving a lot of laughs from things you really shouldn’t be laughing at. It’s not just through assassinations where the guilty laughs come either. You can’t help but laugh as the reunited lovers insult all their old classmates, most of which have become depressing caricatures of small town life. The coked up bully who runs his own dealership, the small town cop desperate to enforce some variety of law or the girl desperate for approval are easily what you could imagine your old classmates turning into.
Mention must also be made of the incredible soundtrack. Put together in part by the late Joe Strummer, the music flows throughout the entire film creating a solid backbone and allowing for some of the most memorable scenes; like a fight to the death to the tune of 99 Luftballons. The addition of the radio station playing hits of the day is a great choice, not only in terms of story but also in allowing the directors obvious love of music come through.
There aren’t a lot of bad points to aim at Grosse Point Blank, but if you were looking for them then the immediate one is the fact that this is very much a nineties film. In terms of look, scripting and storyline it is very much of its time, but this is an exceptionally small complaint against such a strong film. The combination of quality soundtrack, outstanding performances and a viciously tight script means that this is one of the best, is not one of the most overlooked, romantic comedies of the decade.