|Grosse Pointe Blank|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 19 May 1998|
Funny, friendly and sweet, 'Grosse Point Blank' is all the more disarming because its hero's profession would seem to preclude all of these attributes. After all, nice guy though he is, Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack) is a professional hit man.
Although Martin takes pride in his work, he's starting to suffer from a vague sense of discontentment. When he allows his secretary (Joan Cusack) to persuade him to attend his 10-year high school reunion in Grosse Point, Michigan--he's got a hit to do over the weekend in that neighborhood, anyway--Martin encounters his long-long love Debi (Minnie Driver) and starts to think that perhaps his life could be different. Meanwhile, two of his professional rivals and a pair of corrupt F.B.I. agents all want Martin's life to be over. Since none of Martin's former classmates can begin to fathom the idea that a fellow alumnus might be a killer-for-hire, the cat and mouse between Martin and his pursuers is thoroughly misinterpreted by observers.
It's unusual for a comedy this black to have a protagonist who, in his way, is remarkably down to earth and even more remarkably likable, but 'Grosse Point Blank' steers away from expectations, alternately sunny and bloody as its plot cleverly twists and turns. Although the screenplay is credited to four writers--Tom Jankiewicz, D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, and John Cusack, from Jankiewicz's story--the film is smoothly cohesive. The dialogue is pure pleasure, with intelligent shadings of sarcasm, wistfulness and menace.
Cusack makes Martin engrossing from the start. As he rationalizes his awful acts by telling himself and others that all his victims were guilty of heinous crime; Cusack lets us see how miserable Martin has made himself, but he's also got a dry sense of humor that keeps him from being self pitying, and a genuine warmth in scenes with Driver's charming Debi. Dan Aykroyd is deliciously smarmy and mean as the chief bad guy and, although Alan Arkin appears in only a few scenes, his portrayal of Martin's nervous, exasperated therapist is priceless.
The violence in 'Grosse Point Blank' is a little more intense than its moderately giddy tone suggests, which may disturb some viewers, but it serves as an effective reminder that what Martin does can't be lightly dismissed.
The soundtrack, comprised mainly of '80s pop hits with original new music by Joe Strummer, is plenty of fun, reaching a loopy peak in Chapter 14 when Martin tries to dispose of a corpse to the tune of "99 Luftballoons." The sound quality on the DVD is excellent, particularly in Chapter 8, where the contrast in volume between real gunfire and simulated mayhem in a videogame adds another level to the comedy. A vigorous climactic battle in Chapter 16 has good directional acoustics, with spent shells clanking softly in the background as the firefight continues close by.
Director George Armitage navigates the changes in mood like a champion skier gracefully slaloming along, witty and wry and weirdly buoyant. Armitage and the writers make the most of the notion of their hitman hero being more frightened by the prospect of a confrontation with his banal past than with an armed adversary. We so thoroughly recognize Martin's world and his mundane worries--who is he, really, and why isn't he more content?--that we find ourselves pulling for him.