An Alternative Guide to Great Movies: Grosse Point Blank (1997)
- Credit: Archant
Films with re-watch value, movies with a unique quality, will become the classics of the future. Arts editor Andrew Clarke presents a series of idiosyncratic suggestions for movies that may entertain if you are in the mood for something different.
Grosse Point Blank: dir: George Armitage; starring: John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Alan Arkin, Dan Ackroyd, Joan Cusack, Jeremy Piven. Cert: 15. (1997)
High school reunions are a divisive subject. You either love them or hate. Martin Q. Blank, played with effortless cool by John Cusack is not a fan – for many reasons – but as the movie opens he is being pressured by his personal assistant to attend his ten year reunion.
Marcella, his PA, played with dizzying eccentricity by Cusack’s real-life sister Joan, is insistent that he should attend – chatting away in his ear as he is trying to work.
Martin Q. Blank is a specialist, a man at the top of his profession, someone who does not like distractions. He is an assassin. Thanks to Marcella’s complex rescheduling of his diary, he misses his target – something that Marcella doesn’t think is too bad because he can make amends by doing a job in Detriot which is right by his home town, which means that he can also attend his high school reunion.
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But Martin has many reasons for not wanting to return to meet up with his old school friends – not least of which is the fact that he stood up his date Debi Newberry on prom night.
As he drives back home of the eve of the reunion he discovers that Debi has neither forgotten nor forgiven him for the incident. Debi, portrayed with sharp-tongued relish by Minnie Driver, is the DJ at the local radio station and is asking listeners for advice about what she should do when her prom date turns up ten years late.
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Grosse Point Blank manages to be both a romantic comedy and an action adventure as Martin attempts to make his peace with his forthright high school sweetheart while also finding himself the subject of an assassination contract.
The quirkiness quota is increased still further with the arrival of fellow hitman Dan Ackroyd, The Grocer, who is trying to recruit him into the contract killers union to safeguard his interests. Martin maintains he is a lone wolf but The Grocer won’t take no for an answer.
Director George Armitage keeps the film moving smartly along, ensuring that the characters, although quirky, never become irritating.
His greatest achievement, however, is balancing the demands of creating an action-adventure movie within the framework of a rom-com. Just as a bumblebee shouldn’t be able to fly, the rules of Hollywood film-making should prevent these two genres existing in the same space but they do and they work together brilliantly.
The two world’s come together during the high school reunion dance when Debi gets to see exactly what Martin does for a living before the action escalates still further back at home.
This is down to Armitage’s light touch and a sparkling script from Tom Jankiewicz with added contributions from John Cusack. It’s also a film which lets the actors and the dialogue drive the plot – rather than the spectacularly staged action sequences.
It’s a film stuffed full of eccentric characters, getting to trade as many quips and barbs, as they do gun-shots. It’s a movie full of larger-than-life personalities.
Although the relationship between Martin and Debi lies at the heart of the film you can’t overlook the contributions provided by Joan Cusack as Marcella and Dan Ackroyd as The Grocer. The idea of an assassins’ union having a recruitment drive is truly bizarre as is witnessing a cold-hearted killer being hen-pecked by his personal assistant.
In an era when films like rom-coms are becoming increasingly formulaic and action-adventure movies look like stunt-man’s showreels or video-games, it is really heartening to find a film that is unique. It has its own way of looking at the world and how refreshing to have such a cool, flawed and articulate hero at the centre of this mayhem.
Grosse Point Blank still stands as a perfect piece of film-making. I suspect that had the film been made ten years later we would now be lamenting the fact that this wonderfully original film had been ruined by a series of lame sequels. Thankfully, it remains unsullied.