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Grosse Pointe Blank

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Grosse Pointe Blank

Starring: John Cusack, Minnie Driver
Director: George Armitage
Rated: R
RunTime: 106 Minutes
Release Date: April 1997
Genres: Action, Comedy

*Also starring: Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, Joan Cusack

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review
2.  Walter Frith read the review no stars
3.  Andrew Hicks read the review movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review
4.  Marty Mapes read the review movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review

Review by Steve Rhodes
3 stars out of 4

"What am I going to say?" wonders 28-year-old hit man Martin Blank (John Cusack.) "I killed the President of Paraguay with a fork." Going back to your tenth high school reunion is hard, particularly for those with difficult-to-explain professions.

Poor Martin tries the truth on the people, but they will not take him seriously. "I'm a professional killer," he tells David, his ex-classmate and now real estate salesmen. "Do you have to do post-graduate work for that?" asks David. When Mr. Newberry, his ex-girlfriend's dad, asks "What have you been doing with yourself?" he retorts, "Uh, professional killer." Beaming, the dad compliments him, "Good for you -- growth industry."

After a while Martin gives up and starts inventing occupations. When a soused ex-classmate named Amy (his sister Ann Cusack) asks him the canonical, "What do you do?", he flippantly tells her, "I work at Kentucky Fried Chicken. I sell biscuits all over the Southlands."

As you can see, the strength of the new film GROSSE POINTE BLANK lies in its intelligent and funny script by John Cusack and Tom Jankiewicz, which they based on a story by Jankiewicz. Equally good is the casting, the acting, and the directing. Director George Armitage, who last did the excellent, but underappreciated, MIAMI BLUES, brings a perfect sense of comedic timing and an ability to orchestrate action sequences perfectly to blend in with the humor. The ending montage, for example, is pure spaghetti Western, but Armitage's approach is fresh and funny. Although the film has a surfeit of cartoonish violence, it remains good spirited and charming throughout.

John Cusack sets the comedic pace for the film by approaching his position of hired gun with total sincerity. Complementing him is his secretary Marcella, played by his sister Joan Cusack. Marcella, who stays on the phone in most of her scenes, alternates between ordering major weapons caches and giving culinary advice. She is the one who encourages Martin to go to his reunion although she warns him that everyone looked "swelled" at hers.

A great subplot has a rival killer named Grocer (Dan Aykroyd) trying to get Martin to join an assassins' union, which Martin rejects because he hates meetings. (Don't we all.) The casting of Aykroyd as a paid killer is so unlikely that it ends up being a perfect choice.

In a scene that starts off like the bar scene in STAR WARS, the rival murderers go with hidden guns into a coffee shop. "Whoa Chatty Cathy!" Grocer tells Martin as Martin starts to talk. "Clip your string."

The scene quickly changes to a homage to the classic scene from FIVE EASY PIECES. "What do you want in your omelet?" the incessantly perky waitress demands. "Nothing," replies a tense Martin. "Well, that's not technically an omelet," corrects the waitress.

The film bursts at the seams with great minor characters, including the security guard with not much upstairs who scares the people he is hired to protect and the drunk car dealer who sounds like mister tough guy but is actually a poetry-reciting Pillsbury Dough Boy look-alike. The oddest choice is Alan Arkin as a doctor named Oatman who is Martin's reluctant therapist. ("Don't kill anybody for a few days," advises the doctor. "See what it feels like." Martin assures him, "I'll give it a shot." But the doctor corrects him, "No, don't shoot anybody.")

I have left out one of my favorite actresses, Minnie Driver, who plays Debi Newberry, the high school flame whom Martin stood up ten years ago for the prom. They rekindle their romance in the film, and it almost works, but gets lost in the direction. Armitage can not decide if he wants to go for the romantic angle or the comedic with the result that neither is fully satisfying. He should have approached it with complete earnestness as he did the whole assassin part.

There is only one part of the story where our hero Martin is frightened, the reunion. The people at it are so weird that he becomes the sanest person there. As someone who has been to all of my high school reunions, I can vouch for the fact that some strange people do show up. One of my favorite films, SOMETHING WILD, also deals with the high school reunion venue. (At the Grosse Pointe reunion, one could quibble with hairdos from 60s and 70s being on women who went to high school in the mid-80s, but in the context of a reunion spoof it was funny.)

A film with several big laughs, but my best time was with all of the inventive, smaller snippets of dialog. An unapologetically funny film that was happy to have no message other than laughter and no intention other than making a well deserved profit -- just like Martin. ("You're a psychopath," said Debi. "No, psychopaths do it for no reason," said Martin. "I do it for money.")

Copyright 1997 Steve Rhodes

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