"Grosse Pointe Blank"
Opened: April 11, 1997 | Rated: PG-13
Has it really been 10 years? It seems like just yesterday John Hughes was pumping out two or three teen angst movies annually, yet here we are in 1997 witnessing not one, but two 10th class reunion comedies aimed at the "The Breakfast Club"/"Pretty in Pink"/"Say Anything" crowd.
Opening this weekend we have "Grosse Pointe Blank" -- ostensibly the more promising of the two -- about a young, smart and hip professional assassin ("Say Anything" alum John Cusack) who reluctantly returns to his quiet, suburban Michigan hometown to attend his reunion.
(The second picture, "Romy and Michele's High School Reunion" opens in two weeks and stars Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino as working-class airheads who feign fame and fortune to impress their classmates.)
In "Grosse Pointe Blank," the expected fare -- ugly ducklings having sprouted into leggy beauties, guys with long hair having gone bald -- is eschewed for deliciously sassy screwball banter, mainly between Martin Blank (Cusack) and his ex-girlfriend, Debi (Minnie Driver), who he stood up on prom night before disappearing and becoming a hit man.
Opening with a botched hit and an argument between Cusack and a rival hitman (Dan Aykroyd) who wants to form an assassins' union, "Grosse Pointe Blank" moves quickly to reunion angst as our hero laments to his nervous psychiatrist (Alan Arkin) over the how he will answer the "...and what do you do?" queries.
"What am I going to say," he asks. "I assassinated the president of Paraguay with a fork?"
But once in Grosse Pointe, with an enthusiastic Aykroyd hot on his trail and planning to kill him, the pacing falters as the film tries to juggle the comedy with a distractingly straight take on Martin's history and unnecessarily graphic gunplay.
At first, director George Armitage ("Miami Blues") manages an expert balance of laughs and action. The first gun fight takes place in a mini-mart while the oblivious clerk plays a video game with his Walkman up full blast.
But soon the snappy dialogue has to buoy the movie through several stagnant scenes that do nothing to advance the plot.
Martin briefly visits his mother in a mental hospital, then she's out of the story completely. Whenever he calls his assistant (played by Cusack's sister, Joan), she hassles him about a job he's supposed to pull while he's in town -- but not until the last reel do we find out his target is Debi's father, and we're never told why. We also never find out why he stood Debi up for the prom, even though she harps on him for it throughout the movie.
When the action does pick up again, it is with a couple of dead-serious fight scenes that are crying for a little John Woo/Jackie Chan pizzazz.
Considering the movie is nothing but a thinly disguised cash cow being milked for Generation X box office dollars, it could have been a lot worse and is saved mainly by its witty performances. Cusack is perfectly dry and ironic, Driver has great comedic timing as she waffles over taking Cusack back, and even Aykroyd, who has been in a steady downward slide of late, is joyfully mischievous as he stalks Cusack.
"Grosse Pointe Blank" is intelligent and funny, but the story-telling is sloppy. The post-production got a little untidy too, with so many 1980s hit tunes thrown on the soundtrack that the music changes almost as often as the camera angle.