GROSSE POINTE BLANK (1997; no ranking)

There is a moment in “Grosse Pointe Blank” when guns are being fired in the direction of a
promotional standee for “Pulp Fiction”, and the head of Bruce Willis is shot off. The moment isn’t given an in-your-face focus, but rather is in the background of a violent shootout. The messages in “Grosse Pointe Blank” are made this way. The movie is a fun comedy with plenty of absurdity and violence to go around, but it makes its points along the way.

It is a comedy about something. That’s a strength of John Cusack comedies (at least the ones he is heavily involved in creating). “High Fidelity” works because it uses the music landscape to talkabout the self-centered loner who needs to find himself. “War Inc.” is a little less successful because it is so heavy-handed in its handling of wartime hypocrisy.

“Grosse Pointe Blank” is probably the strongest of his films. It is about the flippant viewpoint our society has on violence. It’s about what happens to a person when they are void of personal relationships. It’s about lost love. It is about how you really can’t go home again. And, really, it’s about how all these things are connected.

Simply, Martin Blank (Cusack) is a hitman who is having a quarter-life crisis. He questions his career choice, with the help of his shrink Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin). He rejects the offer of a rival hitman (Dan Aykroyd) to join a coalition of assassins citing the need to work alone. His secretary (Joan Cusack) urges him to return to his 10 year high school reunion in order to work through his issues. Plus, in a bit of nice serendipity, Blank’s next hit happens to be in his home town.

Returning home isn’t so easy. He left on Prom Night, leaving his date-to-be (Minnie Driver) sitting on her front steps waiting. But he goes anyway. He approaches her, she reluctantly gives him a chance. Blank puts off looking at who he has to kill, ensuring the viewer that it will be someone important to the plot. Meanwhile, multiple other bad types are in town, some trying to kill Blank’s target before he can, some trying to kill Blank himself. Hilarity (and gunfire) ensues.

One of the strengths of the film is its writing. Characters do, and say, unexpected things. But they never feel less than human. Anytime somebody asks him what he does for a living, Martin tells them the truth. Nobody believes him.

There are a multitude of great exchanges that probably would look stale if I were to put them down on paper. The chemistry between Cusack and his sister, or Driver, or Aykroyd is perfect. That’s one of the advantages of having a star also being one of the writers, he knows what he is going for when it’s written. There’s no room for misinterpretation by the actor or director (though it could be argued that this also pigeon-holes a performer, but I digress).

Great scenes include a confrontation between Cusack and Aykroyd in a breakfast nook, Joan Cusack screaming at a supplier for not having her bullets ready, Blank and his lost love sitting in the bleachers talking about old times, and plenty more.

In the aforementioned shootout scene (which takes place in a convenience store which has been built over Martin’s childhood home), a worker cannot hear the real violence going on behind him because he is too plugged into the Doom arcade game he is in front of, while listening to heavy metal. Blank has to pull the kid out by the coat before the building explodes. This slacker is too wrapped in fake violence to be bothered by real violence.

Critics at the time gave it mostly solid reviews. They all seemed to enjoy this John Cusack, as opposed to his more serious turns in films like “City Hall.” Many mentioned the parody on violence, and most appreciated the witty banter. A few have a problem with the fact that Los Angeles stands in for Michigan.

Peter Travers, in Rolling Stone, probably sums up the movie the best when he says “This subversive comedy takes aim at everything America holds dear: home, family, money, success — the things we’re urged to kill for in an ethically clueless society.”

The movie has a couple flaws. I could never figure out how Dan Aykroyd knows exactly where John Cusack is, except for when the former is trying to kill somebody in the last reel. Also, the end is probably tied up a little too easily. Roger Ebert has a problem with climactic battle scene, feeling like it becomes the violence it spent the rest of the film parodying. The fight itself doesn’t bug me, but the aftermath is probably a little too simply resolved.

But the flaws are few, and the joys many. “Grosse Pointe Blank” is one of those comedies that can be enjoyed for what it is, and if you want to delve further into it, you’ll be rewarded. So many modern comedies are more concerned with the laugh, without regard for landing anything more than the punch of a joke. This film, like the best movies of any genre, sticks without after you’ve seen it because it actually has something to say.

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~ by johnlink00 on November 10, 2008.

One Response to “GROSSE POINTE BLANK (1997; no ranking)”

  1. Good movie, but “High Fidelity” was more memorable.

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