April 1017, 1997
Directed by George Armitage
A Buena Vista Release
The trailer for Grosse Pointe Blank suggests that it's a perky, slightly offbeat romance, a story about a hitman (Martin Q. Blank, played by John Cusack) who goes to his high school reunion to reconnect with his girlfriend (Debi, played by Minnie Driver). It looks like the couple will endure some initial reacquaintance rockiness and droll dialogue ("I'm a professional killer." "Do you get dental with that?"), a few shootings and stabbings, and all will end well.
This much is true. But the film, directed by George Armitage, is faster and cleverer than it looks at first. Martin isn't just any hitman looking to get out of his lucrative but emotionally unfulfilling line of work. Cooler and funnier than a Brett Easton Ellis character, he steps off from that familiar sense of devastation by success. He's looking for existential-type answers, but already has a set of eccentric (for a killer) codes. He won't kill animals, and, when offered a well-paying contract to blow up a Greenpeace boat, he turns it down because, he says, "I have scruples."
Then he's asked to join a hitmen's union by his forward-thinking friend-and-competitor Grocer (Dan Akroyd, who hasn't been so delightfully evil in years: if you've forgotten why you ever liked him, this may remind you). Martin also turns this down, because he likes the lifestyle (which is, after all, premised on certain ideals, like independence and noncommitment), and because he understands the business (premised on other, rather volatile principles, like betrayal and distrust, all quite exacerbated "after the Berlin thing").
The general metaphor here is pretty obvious (American Way = murder), but the humor is sharp and subtle. For example, the film opens with Martin on the job: in a hotel room, he douses an eye with eyewash and aims his high power rifle at a target on the street, while reciting account numbers to his secretary Marcella (the most excellently deranged Joan Cusack) on the cell phone: all this action is choreographed to Johnny Nash singing "I Can See Clearly Now."Grosse Pointe Blank runs several similar speedball punchlines: they double as comedy and social critique. (My other favorite soundtrack moment is a cut from Axl Rose's horrific cover of "Live and Let Die" to a Muzak version, just as Martin enters a convenience mart: you see where the culture is coming and going, and it is scary.)
Prodded by Marcella, Martin takes a contract in Grosse Pointe, where he can resolve his relationship with Debi, the girl he's still dreaming about 10 years later. The reunion, like most reunions, provides a properly psychotic backdrop for Martin's life-change. Forced to kill a ghoulish hired gun with a pen-to-the-neck, he then has to explain the bloody mess staged next to the lockers, no less to Debi, who is understandably alarmed. Such plot points (the romance, the reunion, even the profession) get the movie into gear: once it's running, the velocity is exhilarating.