Grosse Pointe Blank

(George Armitage, USA, 1997)


There is a tricksy, overly punning quality to the title Grosse Pointe Blank that does not bode entirely well for the film to follow. A place (Grosse Pointe, a homely Detroit suburb) is crossed with a classic film title (John Boorman’s violent, arty thriller Point Blank [1967]) as well as the lead character’s fanciful name, Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack).

George Armitage’s film is full of such convoluted conjunctions. In essence, the project (co-written and co-produced by Cusack) engineers a busy meeting between the blackly humorous story of a hit man reconsidering his vocation, and a more frivolous comedy of manners centred around a high school reunion.

Virtually every gag in the movie is based on the lightning juxtaposition of guns, murder and espionage on the one hand, with the mundane chatter of job administration, psychotherapy, shopping and social embarrassment on the other.

There is some fine comic business in this movie. Armitage (whose previous film was the impressively off-beat Miami Blues in 1990) keeps the momentum up, and builds to several marvellous pay-offs, such as the showdown between bad guys next to the lockers at the local high school. The merriment level is helped by a superb cast: Alan Arkin and Joan Cusack, in particular, enjoy terrifically well-timed moments. Only Dan Aykroyd (a limited performer increasingly at sea in odd parts) scrubs up badly.

This is the type of film that critics and cinephiles are meant to instantly love and champion: unusual, bold, a subversive mix of pop genres, directed by a valiant underdog. But it has problems. The non-stop gags merely reiterate the mix-and-match premise to the point of tedium. The love interest between Martin and Debi (Minnie Driver) fails to really take hold. The attempt to show Martin undergoing some sort of moral crisis over his chosen lifestyle is scarcely convincing. And there is nothing even resembling a satisfying ending.

Nonetheless, Grosse Pointe Blank is a fairly distinctive and original movie, especially if viewed in a dry period marked by plodding, formulaic action spectaculars.

MORE Armitage: The Big Bounce

© Adrian Martin December 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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