Grosse Pointe Blank is a true dark comedy, with a tone few movies successfully capture, much less sustain. This was star and co-writer John Cusack’s pet project; he co-produced it and enlisted a number of auxiliary Cusacks (including sister Joan) to work with him. It’s easy to see why: The plot is sellable as a high-concept romantic comedy with guns, but once in front of the public Cusack could prove that he’s an original and intelligent cynic with more going on upstairs than indicated by his career as a quirky second-string lead.
Funny, bleak, and outrageous all at once, Grosse Pointe Blank is about a journey of sorts for Martin Blank (Cusack), a cool-eyed professional killer who is in every other way as human as the next guy. When he feels troubled, he visits his psychiatrist (Alan Arkin), despite the fact that the psychiatrist has refused to treat him. (“You show up every week at the same time,” the doctor sighs.) It’s not that Martin has residual problems stemming from his job; he just wants to talk about stuff, like the dreams he’s been having about his high-school girlfriend, Debi. He stood her up 10 years ago on prom night and left town for good. If Martin specializes in closure in his waking life, in sleep he is tormented by the one memory that dangles.
He’s offered a reprieve when his secretary, Marcella (Joan Cusack), urges him to accept an invitation to his high-school reunion in Grosse Pointe; he can even combine the trip with business and take an assignment in nearby Detroit. As his choice of career might indicate, Martin is an avoider. He’s less worried about covering up the nature of his work to appease his old classmates than about participating in their emotional world, the world of small talk and nostalgia, real estate and babies, where life-and-death decisions are made about oneself and not strangers. Marcella knows this instinctively, the way faithful secretaries do. “It amuses me to think you came from somewhere,” she tells him.
So he drives into the city with the radio on; it’s playing hits of the ’80s in honor of the reunion, and Debi (Minnie Driver) herself is spinning the vinyl. Martin doesn’t recognize her voice, but the music comforts him, and he pauses on the steps of the high school to chat with a teacher”Still got that Mary Tyler Moore thing going” he says facetiouslyand then goes to see his old house. Guns N’ Roses’ cover of “Live and Let Die” rings out ominously as he approaches the site, now an Ultimart Convenience; it’s as if he’s been erased. Choking with fury, he throws a fit at the spotty clerk, but finally concedes, with what he imagines to be generosity, “What’s done is done.”
There are indications that Martin stands for something bigger than an individualdollops of dim-bulb existentialism mar the script, beginning with the hero’s anti-name and carrying through to his repeated cry, first to his agog targets and later to the people he starts to connect with, “It’s not me.” An unrevelatory visit to his demented mother in a swank old-folks’ home provides him with a bitter, self-deprecating reminder of his nonexistenceshe floats in and out of recognizing her own son, and says as she gets wheeled away, “You’re a handsome devil. What’s your name?” Nemo, of course.
The script doesn’t shrink from the unsavory aspects of its premise; one of its braver choices is implicating the audience in Martin’s morally repugnant work by lingering over its quotidian demands. His killings are messy; things go wrong. It’s an ugly business to watch strangers die. But one of the film’s funniest running jokes is that no one in Grosse Pointe is fazed by his jocular confessionhe really is the man without qualities, from whom his old classmates expect anything.
While on assignment, Martin is shadowed by rival colleague Dan Aykroyd and the two G-men he has sicked on Martin, as well as a homuncular Basque assassin on hand to whack Martin for unspecified sins. But even more unsettling is the native population of Grosse Pointe. Martin realizes with appalling clarity that his graduating class really was the futurehe’s plunged into a nightmare microcosm, a town run and inhabited by the idiots he went to high school with. They’re the realtors, policemen, housewives, and DJs, the grown-ups in charge.
As funny as it is, and it’s often hilarious, Grosse Pointe Blank is also a careful movie; it’s shot through with perfect touches. Feeling more adrift than contemptuous, Martin circles back to the convenience storeit’s the closest thing to home. Well into the reunion, a perky greeter is seen slumped in hollow misery behind the welcome table. Martin keeps noticing that even in Motor City, no one buys American anymore.
Martin’s social graces have atrophied; he isn’t sure what’s wrong with asking Debi to attend the reunion as his date. While capable of behaving normally within his sphere of work, he is no longer able to see how abnormal that behavior is when re-translated into normal life. He can react to news of the Basque hit man’s identity with, “That’s where I know him from. He’s an asshole,” but his responses in the natural world take on a shimmer of unreality. Explaining why he and Debi should be together at the reunion, he tells her, “I think it would be safer…than if we lone-wolfed it.”
Debi is cute and interesting and takes no nonsense. When her old boyfriend walks into the radio station after 10 years, she puts him on the air and asks listeners if she should forgive him. She isn’t like the wild-eyed, sequined alumnae attending the reunion to demonstrate how thin they’ve stayed; she wears pants and agrees to make out with Martin in the nurse’s office.
The whole reunion sequence is wonderfully played out. It begins on a note of desperate good cheer that escalates and then collapses in a heap. After Martin murders his stalker in a clumsy fight in front of the lockers, and entrusts his old friend Paul (Jeremy Piven) to help wrap up the body and shove it into the incinerator, the two return to the party, rumpled, bloody, and exhaustedand the other attendees look just as bad. They stand around separately, not even talking, aware that they’ve drunk too much, pretended to much, regretted too much. Piven, as a deceptively puppyish realtor, is brilliant. Martin the disconnected solipsist doesn’t see him as a person until after Paul has witnessed what his old friend has become. They stumble up to the bar, and when Martin calmly asks for a club soda, Paul looks at him with horrified wonder and disgust.
Serious and good-looking, Grosse Pointe Blank is reminiscent of The American President, in that all the jokes that can be made at the expense of the premise are made; it does exactly what you want it to do with such a situation. It’s even closer to Something Wild, not just because a high-school reunion and a convenience store play major parts in both; Something Wild’s renowned first half has the same sort of smart, glossy, unpredictability that Grosse Pointe Blank (terrible title) carries through almost to the end, which unfortunately dissolves into farce. George Armitage’s direction is smooth and crystal-clear (he did Miami Blues), and the photography is terrifically evocative, the interiors dark and creamy, the exteriors sunny and flat. If Cusack keeps on trusting his taste, maybe he’ll fulfill the promise that Jodie Foster didn’t.
Supposedly a buddy flick under all the violence and garishly obvious product placement, Double Team is a lunkheaded movie, made by lunkheads, starring perfectly acceptable people behaving like lunkheads.
I like that Dennis Rodman; he’s decorative and elusive and freaks out white folk. But he can’t act, meaning that he’s not discernibly less adept than co-stars Van Damme and saurian pet-of-the-French Mickey Rourke. Everyone’s performance is so flat and the script so stale. Drink Coca-Cola. This pointless festival of explosions is showily directed by Hong Kong art-movie guy Tsui Hark; the film’s very raison d’être, the fight scenes, are blurry and tiresome.
Rodman plays a flamboyant weapons dealer named Yaz whom Van Damme, as Jack Quinnsame homicidal-but-resourceful good guy he always plays, different namecalls upon for free weapons. Quinn is in trouble because he has failed to kill Mickey Rourke, for which he should be tortured and left for dead, but instead is exiled to an island disappearing ground for disgraced agents.
He escapes, reconnects with pal Yaz, who’s understandably easy to spot, and Drink Coca-Cola. Many things blow up and many men (and one womanQuinn actually hesitates before blowing her away) are killed on the way to the big finish. That takes place in a majestic ancient European structure which is, of course, summarily exploded. In between, Quinn’s wife gives birth to his baby, Drink Coca-Cola, Quinn does curls with a filled bathtub, and the script makes tiresome basketball jokes so we can all feel smug knowing the well-hidden secret about Rodman’s other life. Mickey Rourke doesn’t die until the very end, and even then they cop out and blow him up instead of letting him be torn apart by a tiger. Even the early-teen, undoubtedly male audience at whom this expensive tripe is aimed will be let down.CP