A delightfully dark, offbeat and entertaining comedy-thriller that deserves more attention than it's gotten over the years. Many movies have been made about high school reunions but very few have quite the feel of this one. The requisite nostalgia factor is definitely intact (the soundtrack is full of great 80's tunes, both popular and somewhat obscure) but that's just a small portion of this film's surprisingly ambitious agenda. By combining elements of an action film, a noirish post-Tarantino crime-thriller, an offbeat romance, and darkly satirical comedy along with it's high school reunion plot, Grosse Pointe Blank has set itself up for a Herculean task but, by and large, it succeeds. The script, which was credited to John Cusack and a host of other writers, is sharply-written and intelligent with many quotable lines and several perfectly on-target observations on various facets of American culture in the 90's (it takes aim at big business and Gen-X angst, amongst a rich variety of other topics). This film is often observant and pointed in ways that may not always be obvious expect upon reflection and rumination. Take the case of a shootout that occurs in a convenience store between our hero and a rival hitman. During this little fracas, the clerk on duty is completely oblivious to the violence and chaos going on around him because he has his headphones plugged in whilst being entertained by the fake violence and carnage of an arcade game. The script is rife with moments like this but it takes careful thought and attentiveness to uncover them all. Still there's enough here to be enjoyed even by those who don't wish to think all that deeply into things.
John Cusack is surprisingly well-cast in the lead role as the titular character Martin Blank, a hitman who has doubts about the future and his place in the world despite being an efficient killer and having lead a far more interesting life than most would dream of living at twice the age of his character here. The brilliance of Cusack's performance is that he is able to wed his typically quirky, slightly neurotic personality to this inherently unlikable character, thus endearing him to the audience. Imagine what might happen had Lloyd Dobler (Cusack's character from Say Anything) decided to heed his father's advice and join the Army and that should give you a sense of what John Cusack brings to his role here. For the most part, the rest of the cast is equally well-chosen including Joan Cusack, Alan Arkin, Jeremy Piven and Dan Aykroyd (who is delightfully over-the-top in his role as a rival assassin). The only one who seems initially miscast is Minnie Driver (her American accent is quite uneven at times and she doesn't always click with Cusack in the beginning) but eventually, even she grows into her role as the love interest (who our hero stood up on prom night to join the Army before a brief stint in the CIA leading up to his current profession) -- and it doesn't hurt that she is still highly attractive, even at her worst.
Sitting in the director's chair for this effort is George Armitage, whose previous film was the underrated and somewhat under-seen Alec Baldwin starring vehicle, Miami Blues (which employed a similar mixture of mirth and carnage that works so well here). Armitage's work here is often overlooked because everyone wants to praise John Cusack's contribution, but he does a capable job of directing this film. The action sequences, in particular, are crafted with skill and energy, while still meshing well with the overall comedic tone of the film. The are times however-- particularly in the case of one especially bloody murder (where a ballpoint pen is employed with cruel ingenuity) -- when the mixture of violence and humor might be off-putting to some tastes. This shouldn't be too shocking to anyone raised on the works of Tarantino and his numerous imitators, but you never know (Pulp Fiction is in fact referenced on at least a couple of occasions during this film, the most obvious of which occurs during the aforementioned convenience store skirmish where a cardboard cutout of the cast from the earlier film is riddled with bullets). Personally, I think this film has other problems that demand more attention. For example, there are a few scenes (like when Martin visits his mother in a nursing home) that bring the film's momentum to a grinding halt and several minor characters, especially at the reunion, that are more annoying than funny. Also there are scenes that end abruptly before quickly and sloppily transitioning to something else. Luckily, while these flaws might diminish the movie's overall effectiveness, they don't do irreparable damage in the long run. In the end, Grosse Pointe Blank is more than worth a look for anyone who appreciates movies that are offbeat, edgy and don't fit neatly into a single category while still managing to deliver plenty of thrills and big laughs in the process.