Grosse Pointe Blank is a concept-driven movie with just a single gimmick: that hired killers are “normal” people outside of work. Surprisingly, it works well.
John Cusack plays Martin Q. Blank, a professional killer. He is very businesslike: he has clients, agreements, a secretary, appointments, expenses, and a therapist. If one didn’t know that his specialty was murder, he could be a real estate agent.
Lately, his work has been getting him down, so his secretary (Joan Cusack, John’s sister) suggests that he attend his 10-year high school reunion. He eventually agrees to go back home for the weekend and see all the old faces. He hopes to see one face in particular.
Ten years ago, Martin stood up Debi (Minnie Driver) on prom night. He’s been thinking about her all these years and hopes to make amends with her. He’s even willing to give up his career for her, if she’ll let him. He finds her working at the local radio station, single, and willing to talk . . . .
With this type of concept movie, the screenwriter(s) must be careful not to tell the same joke too many times. Many of the jokes are Martin talking about the pressures of his job like everyone else does, but the screenwriters (Tom Jankiewicz, D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, and John Cusack) keep the jokes fresh and funny.
It is inspired comedy to make Martin a hired killer. I was reminded of a comedy called The Dream Team, about a group of inmates from a mental institution. Funny as it was, critics thought it unfairly stereotyped mental patients. By making Martin an assassin, the movie can make all sorts of stereotypes without worrying about complaints from the group portrayed.
As a counterexample, there is a therapist in this movie (lightly played by Alan Arkin) who is dangerously close to a stereotype, There are some jokes involving psychobabble between therapist and patient. Though kinder than usual (compare That Old Feeling, for example), these jokes border on condescending. In order for the therapist’s dialog to be funny, he has to be a caricature, a stereotype. But nobody complains about the stereotype when the character is a professional killer.
In spite of having a little too much screen time, Arkin was funny as the therapist. Both Cusacks were good in their roles. Dan Aykroyd was funny, if unmemorable. Minnie Driver was okay as Debi, but her role was a little shallow. Debi serves as the object of Martin’s desire. She is just “the love interest.” She is a little more fun than most, but she’s still mostly an object.
The movie’s worst flaw is its ending — not that the outcome of events is unsatisfying, but that the specific events that take place are out of place. Throughout the rest of the movie, Martin, though an assassin, is not very bloody or violent. Near the end there are two episodes of bloody violence. The first episode is treated as black comedy, and it sort of fits into the movie. But the last episode introduces a level of serious violence that not only doesn’t fit with the rest of the movie, it detracts from it.
If I hadn’t liked this movie, I would have said that it was just an excuse for an 80s soundtrack, (which it was). But the movie was more than just a soundtrack, and it was quite entertaining. It’s a bit of fluff, but it’s a lot of fun.