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'Point': Hit Man's Remorse

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 11, 1997

If actors are walking musical instruments, then John Cusack is a wildly tuned dulcimer. He doesnít bang big power chords, but he strums delicate and mischievous tones of his own.

The young doe-faced actor charmed his way through "Say Anything" as a sweet-natured kickboxer in sneakers and tuxedo tails who pursued class valedictorian Ione Skye. He fooled unsuspecting marks with saintly panache as the con artist in "The Grifters."

And if he couldnít save such forgettable movies as "Road to Wellville," "Money for Nothing" and "Eight Men Out," he always left you with something: An askew glance here, a wild-card burst of humor there.

"Grosse Pointe Blank," a modestly budgeted, dark comedy, which Cusack co-wrote, co-produced and stars in, amounts to an unplugged concert for friends and family. Collaborating with scriptwriters D.V. DeVincentis and Steve Pink (two longtime associates from his younger, Chicago days) and Tom Jankiewicz, he has specifically designed himself a role to showcase his subtle, comic abilities. And while heís at it, he gives roles to three siblings: Joan, Ann and Bill Cusack.

As Martin Q. Blank, John Cusack is a successful hit man with assassination burnout. After five years of plugging people for money, this gig -- lucrative as it is -- has worn thin.

"Whatever it is you donít like," whimpers one of Martinís targets, as he faces the final curtain, "Iíll stop doing it."

"Itís not me," says Martin apologetically.

Martin has already made some steps in the right direction. The moral cogs in his head -- long inactive -- are starting to whirr again. In one of the movieís most enjoyable bits of business, he shares his doubts with a therapist called Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin), whoís clearly uncomfortable with dire couch confessions. And when a job takes him to Grosse Pointe, near Detroit, Martinís life begins its slow turnaround.

For one thing, he was raised there. His secretary Marcella (Joan Cusack), a sort of Miss Moneypenny of Murder, suggests that, since this assignment brings him to his hometown, he might consider his 10-year high school reunion, which takes place at the same time.

Martin is reluctant. What would he talk about -- the finer points of homicide? But there are forces pulling him home: He wants to find out who he is. Heís drawn back to Debi (Minnie Driver), the high-school sweetheart he left high and dry on the eve of the prom. And like all movie hit men, he has redemption on his mind.

"Donít kill anybody for a few days, see what it feels like," suggests Dr. Oatman.

"Iíll give it a shot," says Martin.

"No, no," begs the shrink. "Donít give it a shot."

Martinís homecoming is a blitzkrieg of business and pleasure. There are pitched battles with Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), a rival killer who isnít sure whether to ice Martin or invite him to pool resources; but most significantly, thereís a romantic rematch and reunion with Debi, now a radio DJ who likes to discuss her personal problems over the air.

Although Driver (who was so wonderfully perky in "Circle of Friends") is delightful, itís the offbeat sidetracking that makes the movie, including some funny business involving Martinís ex-high school friend, Paul (Jeremy Piven), now a balding real estate guy with women problems. Thereís also an amusing shootout between Martin and yet another psycho-gunman at the Ultimart convenience store while the clerk -- festooned with headphones and playing a video game -- has no idea whatís going on.

Cusackís talents are delicate and appealing, but not propulsive enough to lead the movie to triumph. After introducing a score of wonderfully jagged elements, "Grosse Pointe" turns its back on things dark and settles for a romantic denouement. And after a while, the movie, despite a killing here and there, curls into a ball and falls asleep. Luckily, this drop-off in the story occurs so late in the film, most viewers will have decided theyíre already having a good time.

GROSSE POINTE BLANK (R) ó Contains sexual situations, profanity and bouts of violence.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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