Smith and Wesson’s High School Reunion
The Blank of the title is Martin Blank (John Cusack), a professional contract killer who, at the urging of his Girl Friday (Joan Cusack) and his reluctant shrink (Alan Arkin), decides to attend his high school reunion in Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Although Martin tells himself that he’s only going because his destination is also the site of his next assignment, he’s actually looking to get back together with his teen sweetheart Debi (Minnie Driver), and perhaps regain his soul in the process.
From Le Samourai to Assassins, the “Last Hit” movie has become somewhat of a cliché these days, and even as a black comedy this sounds like a likely failure on paper. Yet Cusack (who exec. produced) and director George Armitage (who made his directorial debut with the low budget ’70s action pic Hit Man) manage to keep things moving from one pleasant surprise to another, whether through the use of smart, crackling dialogue or the occasional roaring action piece. Cusack manages to expertly convey his character’s struggle with newfound morality while being consistently funny throughout. I was so amused and engaged by this film that I’ll have to forgive the fact that it’s plot hangs upon a rather obvious plot hole: killer elite Blank puts off his assassination homework until the last minute (wouldn’t he at least check into his mark’s identity, just in case he ran into him at the toll plaza on the way into town?).
From Cusack’s fast-paced banter with old pal Jeremy Piven to the sizzling continuing confrontation with Driver (he skipped town ten years ago, standing her up for the prom), this is one of those films where everyone is just plain fun to visit with (if only my own upcoming reunion is as enjoyable). Even the villains are presented in an airy, personable manner, particularly Blank’s rival hit man Grocer (Dan Akroyd, in a rare and welcome return to comic form), who wants Blank to join his assassins’ guild. Only a chilling nemesis sent to eliminate Blank is played as truly evil – action fans will be delighted by an appearance by the diminutive martial arts champion Benny “the Jet” Urquidez, who sparred with Jackie Chan in the Hong Kong kung fu classics Wheels on Meals and Dragons Forever.
In all, Grosse Pointe Blank is a very welcome surprise, solid entertainment from start to finish and one of the few black comedies of the post-Q.T. era to make a mark for itself.