"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
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
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
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