Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Oh, how times change. One day, you’re flipping out, ditching your prom date and disappearing. Ten years later, you’re coolly picking off bike-riding assassins while talking to your secretary on the phone. At least that’s what happens if you’re Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack), hitman for hire.

Everything seems ducky for Martin until his efficiently cunning secretary Marcella (Joan Cusack) schedules him for a hit in his home town of Grosse Pointe, a tony Detroit ‘burb. The job coincides with Martin’s ten year high school reunion, and puts him in too-close-for-comfort proximity with Debi (Minnie Driver), the stood-up prom date, the love of his life, the girl he can’t get over. As it turns out, Debi never quite got over being stood up, either. She’s a little bitter after all these years, and she doesn’t mind showing it. To complicate matters more, fellow assassin the Grocer (Dan Aykroyd) is hounding Martin to join the hitman union he’s organizing. Membership is not optional, and Martin soon has four exterminators after him. As if that weren’t enough, he’s in the throes of an existential crisis, and his terrified shrink (Alan Arkin) hates him.

Like the Mann said, you can’t go home again.

With brisk direction by George Armitage, and a smart, witty script (by neophytes Tom Jankiewicz, D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink and John Cusack), *Grosse Pointe Blank* is a buoyantly black, deadpan comedy that bubbles with angst. Deftly balancing on a razor’s edge between comedy and mayhem, *Grosse Pointe Blank* erupts into violence without losing sight of the ridiculous, as the boy most likely to asassinate struggles to reconcile past and present, make up with Debi, and fend off psychos while surrounded by the various losers of the class of ‘86 in a morally bankrupt world of manicured lawns and inconvenience stores.

Cusack and Driver play nicely off each other -- they’re like magnets, both attracted and repelled, and their scenes together have a crackling intensity. Martin is arch and cool on the outside, but a mess of conflict and emotion on the inside. Likewise Debi, who, lacking the professional training and moral flexibility of the hitman, isn’t quite as deft at hiding her bruised feelings. The romantic comedy slides easily into black comedy and two-fisted gunfights as Martin calmly fends off assassins and discusses the pros and cons of unionization with Aykroyd’s blunt Grocer, as psychotically earnest as Joe Friday, with a haircut to match. Jeremy Piven does a nice turn as Paul, Martin’s high school chum turned zealous real estate broker, while Joan Cusack is a delight as Martin’s martinet secretary.

Even when it isn’t completely surprising, which isn’t very often, *Grosse Pointe Blank* is exuberantly original, fresh and funny, a disarmingly, charmingly breezy, straight-faced comedy that proves there are actually worse things than high school reunions, but not many.