Published March 1, 1997
Grosse Pointe Blank by George Armitage is a high concept movie. A hit man called Martin Blank (John Cusack) goes to his 10 year high school reunion. He tells people matter of factly what he does and they reply by saying something like: “Do you get dental with that?” or “Do you have to do post-graduate work for that?” His ex-girlfriend’s father (Mitchell Ryan) says, “Oh, good for you. It’s a growth industry.” Only the ex-girlfriend, Debi (Minnie Driver) shows a flicker of concern at the news of his profession, and to her he says: “I don’t think what a person does for a living affects who he is.”
It is never explained why he went crazy and stood Debi up for their prom date 10 years before, even though it is clear he is still in love with her. He just had to rush out and join the army. The army’s “psych people” found that he was talented in the sense that he had “a certain moral flexibility” so he was loaned out to the CIA. Debi is horrified: “You work for the government?”
“No!” he replies. “Used to.” Now, he says, he kills people strictly for money.
It is the one moment of successful satire in a movie that goes on for too long and is only intermittently funny. The suggestion is that the CIA types do it just for the joy of killing. They’re the psychos. He’s only behaving rationally, in his own economic interest, like everybody else in America. Likewise, the two government agents who are hanging around him as he returns to Grosse Pointe are gunned down by both Martin and his archrival, the Grocer (Dan Ackroyd), without a thought and as the Grocer, who is attempting to organize an assassins’ union, shouts “workers of the world unite.” They had been waiting their chance but couldn’t shoot first. Government policy is: “You wait till the bad guy kills the good guy; then, when you kill the bad guy, you’re the good guy.”
It is all very promising, as are the too-brief scenes with Martin’s psychiatrist, Dr Oatman (Alan Arkin) who keeps insisting that Martin isn’t his patient. He can’t be his patient because “I’m emotionally involved with you,” he says.
“How?” asks Martin.
“I’m afraid of you.”
It is the psychiatrist who urges him to go to his class reunion. “Don’t kill anybody for a few days,” he says; “see how it feels.”
“I’ll give it a shot,” says Martin.
“No! Don’t give it a shot!”
But the promise is never quite realized. Too much is going on. The business with Debi, with the Grocer and his union, with the doctor, with his secretary, Marcella (Joan Cusack), with the government agents and another rival hitman and, above all, with the reunion itself, which only lurks sketchily in the background is all largely undeveloped. Too bad, because the concept is a good one.