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'Grosse Pointe': Right on the Mark

By Rita Kempley
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 11, 1997

"Grosse Pointe Blank," a hilarious new addition to the wonderfully warped Generation X-Files, uses a traditional romantic comedy as a pretext for examining American values and the ruthless pursuit of success.

John Cusack, co-author of this sharp social satire, portrays Martin Q. Blank, a prosperous entrepreneur who is just realizing that his life lacks meaning. It never occurs to Martin that his chosen career, professional assassin, has anything to do with his existential malaise.

In hopes of sorting things through, Martin sees a therapist, Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin), who dodges his patient's constant calls and treats the hit man -- who is not above pulling a gun on Oatman -- against his will. With Oatman's okay ("Go, go. Just don't kill anybody"), Martin sets off to confront his past at his 10th high school reunion in Grosse Pointe, Mich., a wealthy Detroit suburb where he has agreed to make one last hit.

Before getting down to business, he seeks out his high school sweetheart, Debi (Minnie Driver), who hasn't seen him since he stood her up for the prom. Martin, who claims that he freaked out and joined the Army, offers to make amends by escorting her to the reunion. The old flames are but a whisper away from flaring up once more when his past intervenes.

In addition to a Euro-thug named La Poubelle and two federal agents, Martin is obliged to shoot it out with his chief rival, Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), who has decided to organize a hit men's union and is piqued because Martin refuses to join.

Martin, who drives a large American car, repeatedly comments on the prevalence of foreign cars in Grosse Pointe, doubtless home to many an overpaid auto industry executive. His economic jingoism along with his mother's mental illness and his military training, the film explains, combined with society's ambivalence toward guns and violence, made him the man he is today.

Martin would like to claim victimization, but Cusack and cowriters Tom Jankiewicz, Steve Pink and D.V. DeVincentis won't let him get by with it, at least not altogether. While it's true that Martin's victims are not virtuous paragons, professional killers don't exactly pile up the karma points. The writers deliver their message, but with far more subtlety than the title would indicate.

The film's characters, like its lines and situations, are as imaginative as they are vividly portrayed. Cusack's deadpan turn is nicely counterbalanced by the zealousness of the supporting cast, including his sister, Joan Cusack, as a no-nonsense office manager, Jeremy Piven as his high school chum and, best of all, Arkin as the traumatized Jungian at heart.

"Grosse Pointe Blank," ultimately composed of more unlikely ingredients than a California-style pizza, meshes beautifully under the direction of George Armitage of 1990's "Miami Blues." Armitage's droll sensibilities are evident whether he's re-creating the nightmarish nostalgia of a reunion, with its receding hairlines and thickened waistlines, or staging a spoofy Wild West shootout between Grocer and Martin, who are holed up on either side of a kitchen counter.

Of course, the idea is to deglamorize gunplay, but what you really want to do is pull up a stool.

Grosse Pointe Blank is rated R for sexual situations, TV violence and language.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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