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Empire List #439: Grosse Pointe Blank

One of the most immoral things you can do in life is kill someone. If you kill people for money than you are trying to win the award for immoral person of the year. However, what if you were a killer who can rationalize his actions and you see murder for hire as a job no different than selling furniture? Now imagine you have been invited to your high school reunion. That is the premise for George Armitage’s “Grosse Point Blank” (1997) starring John Cusack as the hitman. A wise casting choice since Cusack gained prominence playing romantic leads in 80s teen comedies. What if that same character came back to this John Hughes universe but his job was to kill people?

This is one of those movies that I have watched progressively over the years. I missed it at the movie theatres, but I saw bits and pieces of it while living in Chile. Eventually I decided to watch the whole thing and found it in a Montreal HMV store as one of those double features the store uses to get rid of its old movies. It came with “High Fidelity” another Cusack hit, although a much different kind of comedy. I love the way this particular movie manages to create scenes of brutal violence and still make you laugh. It’s pretty surreal to see Dan Aykroyd barging into a house, guns blazing, while singing “I’ll be shooting you around the mountain when I come.”

Cusack plays Martin Q. Blank who begins the movie by assembling a sniper rifle inside an apartment building. There is no pressure for him in this, as he is also having a phone conversation with Marcella (Joan Cusack) his secretary. She informs him he has received an invitation to his 10-year high school reunion in Grosse Point, Michigan. “Don’t play with me, you know what I do for a living,” he says before shooting another killer riding a bicycle across the street.

Back at the office Marcella insists destiny seems to be saying he has to go home. After botching a recent assignment, Martin has to take an additional contract for his employer and the assignment just so happens to be in Michigan. After an awkward talk with his reluctant psychiatrist Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin) about the pressures of his job, Martin agrees he might need a time off.

Unfortunately it won’t be a quiet weekend. Rival hitman Grocer (Dan Aykroyd) wants to form a hitman’s union to control the competition. So many freelancers running wild since the fall of the Soviet Union you see? Scorned by Martin’s refusal to join and the fact that he keeps losing jobs to Martin, Grocer rats him out to the government. Two National Security agents (Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman) follow Martin and wait for him to doing something illegal to take him out. In case that doesn’t work, Grocer also rats him out a Basque terrorist called Felix LaPoubelle (Benny Urquidez) who wants Martin dead. Incidentally, “LaPoubelle” means “the trash” in French. That guy must really love his family, because I would have changed my last name years ago.

Despite the life and death situation, Martin has other things on his mind. Mainly, will Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver) the girl he abandoned before prom night, ever forgive him? She does, but not before confronting live on the local radio station where she works as a DJ. After more pleasant reminiscing, Martin decides to amend the past and asks Debi to be his date to the high school reunion. It promises to be an interesting evening to say the least.

In terms of comedy, this is not the funniest movie ever made, but it is probably one of the best comedies about a contract killer. It deals with Martin’s situation in clever ways. Worried about what to say when people ask him about his job, he decides to tell the truth. People assume he is joking and get in on the joke. Even Debi’s father (Mitchell Ryan) tells him “Good for you. It’s a growth industry.”

A lot of humour is also found at the reunion itself. I have never been to a high school reunion, because I have been to too many high schools, but I imagine the one depicted in the movie is pretty accurate. You have the same cast of characters: the jocks, the nerds, the bullies, and the outcasts. They have grown older, fatter, but not very wiser. Martin’s best friend Paul (Jeremy Piven, from before Entourage) complains the girls who were ignoring him in high school are still ignoring him at the reunion. Such is life.


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