In the years that pass between graduation and our first high school reunion, it's only inevitable that people change. Of course, some change more than others. The geek everyone picked on may become a multi-billionaire, the once popular jock might turn into a bum, or, in the case of 'Grosse Pointe Blank,' a seemingly average young man could end up becoming… a professional assassin. A charming and creative action/comedy, the film is full of cool set-pieces, dry humor, and a surprisingly sweet romance. Though fifteen years old, the flick still feels fresh and rightly earns its cult-classic status.
A disillusioned and depressed hitman, Martin Blank (John Cusack), is sent on a mission to his old hometown. With his ten-year high school reunion scheduled during the same time, he decides to attend, reuniting with his family and former friends. Still hung up on the girlfriend he abandoned on prom night (Minnie Driver), he takes the opportunity to try and win her back. Unfortunately, the feds and rival assassins plot against him, bringing a barrage of blood and bullets to the small suburb. Confronted with the rekindled flame of young love, Blank will have to choose between his job and the girl -- that is, if they can make it out alive.
With its fun, inventive premise, much of the film's success relies on the juxtaposition of the mundane and the sensational. The easily relatable high school reunion scenario is thrust against the much more dramatic world of professional assassins, and together this mishmash informs most of the movie's dry humor. Not mere larger-than-life goons, the killers are portrayed as ordinary people with normal problems and emotional issues. Blank regularly sees a physiatrist (played perfectly by Alan Arkin) where he unloads all of his anxieties, and despite his unusual profession his issues and hang-ups are all humorously common and relatable (possibly inspiring a similar dynamic in 'Analyze This').
Likewise, many traditionally tense situations are undercut by comedy, including a memorable standoff between Blank and his rival (Dan Akroyd) where the enemies order ridiculously named meals and argue about the definition of an omelet while they secretly hold guns on each other. Another scene features Blank's assistant (Joan Cusack) screaming about a missing shipment of ammo on the phone before calmly switching lines to share a recipe for soup with a friend. This style of contrasting comedy pervades the picture and lends it a certain quirky charm.
As Martin Blank, John Cusack becomes an average guy hitman. Though anxious and depressed, the character is a far cry from the typical brooding assassin archetype that's so common in cinema, and it's refreshing to see a killer who freely admits to enjoying what he does. Cusack's boyish charm helps to keep Blank likeable and his frequent sarcastic quips are quite entertaining. Minnie Driver is equally strong in the role of Debi, Blank's former high school sweetheart. The moment the two appear on screen together they instantly forge an electric but uneasy sense of chemistry that works well to highlight Debi's dueling emotions. As the pair warm up to each other again, Driver's character falls under the youthful, almost giddy spell of young romance and watching the two reconnect like love-struck teens is endearing and sweet.
The high school reunion itself is a real highlight, and the filmmakers really hit all the right notes of nostalgia, angst, melancholy, and humor. The awkward celebration is hectic and erratic as Blank and Debi are strung from one reintroduction to the next, meeting various oddball characters while trying to find time alone to reconnect (all set to the backdrop of a killer 80s soundtrack). Themes of missed opportunity and second chances are beautifully touched upon with a surprisingly deft hand full of wit and genuine emotion. Well, that is, until a hitman out for revenge decides to show up. Once again, the movie balances the two extremes brilliantly, and the results are very memorable.
Going along with the romance and comedy, are the film's numerous action scenes. Tying to the style of humor, the action also plays up the heavy contrast between the dramatic world of hitmen and the ordinary world of suburbia. A convenience store shootout is full of mayhem and the film's bullet laden climax is fantastic, perfectly encapsulating the flick's unique tone and blend of genres. In the midst of an all-out assault, Blank attempts to address his romantic relationship with Debi and the mixture of exciting action with heartfelt confession is a true joy to watch.
'Grosse Pointe Blank' is just a damn cool flick through and through. Admittedly, the first half does drag a bit and the actual plotting is pretty thin, but the movie easily wins you over with its heartfelt charm, dry humor, and exciting action. The filmmakers take an easily relatable premise -- a guy hoping to reconnect with his old flame during his high school reunion -- and put a very creative spin on it, fusing different genres into a unique blend that works surprisingly well. Rekindled young love, second chances, nostalgia, an awesome soundtrack of 80s tunes, and lots of whizzing bullets all add up to a truly kick ass cult-classic that stands the test of time.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Buena Vista brings 'Grosse Pointe Blank' to Blu-ray on a BD-50 disc housed in a keepcase. After some skippable trailers, the disc transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is region A, B and C compatible.
The movie is provided with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio. There are a few issues that disappointingly hold back the transfer some, but overall this is an acceptable video presentation.
The source print is in very good shape with only a few fleeting specks here and there. A moderate to light layer of grain is visible throughout, but unfortunately looks a bit noisy in certain sequences (particularly in skies during outdoor scenes). Detail is OK but never exactly impressive, and the majority of the image has a flat appearance. The color palette is on the dull side with slightly faded saturation, but certain hues do pop nicely (reds and greens are particularly punchy, but do bleed just a tad). White levels are well balanced but blacks are inconsistent and can look crushed in several shots (the restaurant scene between Cusack and Driver is a good example). Unfortunately, edge enhancement is also present from time to time. While noticeable, I didn't find it to be a major distraction.
The back cover claims that this is "a sensational new digital restoration," but there are some transfer related shortcomings that reveal this to be an outdated effort. Still, despite some problems, 'Grosse Pointe Blank' looks pretty decent, even if one can't help but know that with the proper care and attention it could have looked even better.
The film is provided with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 track and additional French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 tracks. English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles are also available. Fueled by a fantastic soundtrack, the mix sounds quite good and features some periodic splashes of immersion.
For the most part speech is crisp and clean, though I did notice a few fleeting moments where dialogue sounded just a tad muffled or strained. The film's memorable selection of 80s tunes comes through with a pleasing, full-bodied quality and nice separation across the soundstage. Bands like The Clash (whose co-founder Joe Strummer composed the actual score), a-ha, Echo & the Bunny Men, Violent Femmes, and Queen are all included, coming together to form a truly kickass soundtrack that perfectly complements the visuals. Surrounds provide a very faint sense of general ambiance, and a few isolated sounds add a greater sense of atmosphere (a helicopter off in the distance, for example). With that said, the film's overall soundstage does feel a little small at times, but thankfully opens up nicely during the movie's action scenes. When guns start to blaze the track snaps to life, sending bullets bouncing across the room with smooth imaging and a decent but not particularly aggressive low frequency kick. While bass response isn't as full or deep as modern mixes, the gunshots and explosions carry a moderate jolt.
It's certainly not a reference track, but the action sequences are exciting and the music sounds fantastic. Fans of the flick should be pleased with this mix.
While the packaging heralds this release as the "15th Anniversary Edition," it would appear that Buena Vista has decided to completely ignore that special milestone, opting to include no supplements. Come on, why no commentary? Where are the retrospective featurettes? This flick deserves so much more!
A cult-classic mishmash of genres, 'Grosse Pointe Blank' is just a cool flick through and through. Full of action, comedy, and a surprisingly sweet romance, the movie easily overcomes some minor pacing concerns and a fairly thin plot. While still acceptable, the video transfer is outdated and has some issues. Thankfully, the audio offers some decent immersion and is free of any major problems. Despite this being a 15th Anniversary release, Buena Vista has included no special features, which is very disappointing! The barebones presentation and the dated video transfer are unfortunate, but the audio and movie itself are strong. While the film deserves better, for now this is all we're likely to get, and though not ideal, this disc still gets my recommendation.