Friday, August 06, 2004

Movie: Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

Here’s one that should be on that underrated list. (For that matter, so should another movie directed by George Armitage, MIAMI BLUES.) When I first saw this gleaming black comedy about a hit man attending his high school reunion, I shrugged it off as “pretty good” rather than admitting how close to home it struck. Every time I see it, it cuts a little deeper.

Part of the reason is the presence of John Cusack, whom I have long regarded as my cinematic doppelganger. Some guys think they’re Steve McQueen, I think I’m Cusack. We’re so much alike that it’s uncanny. Honest. One Christmas Joan sent me a sweater by mistake. It was awkward.

It doesn’t help that Cusack’s character Martin Blank is exactly my age. We’re both members of the Class of ’86, so his issues were very much my own at the time. The soundtrack conjures up uncommonly vivid memories, which is probably why I never bought it.

Ultimately, the movie works because it’s truly funny, blending rat-a-tat Preston Sturges-style dialogue with a gonzo sensibility. It’s one of the only films to make good use of Dan Aykroyd, here playing an assassin who wants to start a union. Cusack’s frequent costar Jeremy Piven shines, but it helps that he’s given great lines. He calls the reunion the “‘I’ve-peaked-and-I’m-kidding-myself’ party,” and greets Cusack thusly: “You look good, man. You look Tony Robbins good.” Cusack’s relationship with his psychiatrist (a perfectly cast Alan Arkin) predates THE SOPRANOS and is also depicted more realistically, in that the doctor lives in constant fear of his patient. And the movie was filmed during that brief window when Minnie Driver was at her most crushworthy.

I was in high school when John Hughes was cranking out the movies that are now oddly venerated. (Shortly before leaving the New York Times, Elvis Mitchell called Hughes the one genuine auteur of ‘80s cinema. I’m sure his departure from the paper was in no way related to that statement.) I wasn’t really a Hughes fan, probably because I couldn’t wait to get out of high school. I can still remember attending a party at a friend’s house to watch the just-released videotape of THE BREAKFAST CLUB. I was the only person there who hadn’t seen it. I thought it was an amusing if obvious piece of fluff. I certainly didn’t swoon over it, the way everyone else did. Although I pretended to, because there were girls there.

Watching this movie again, I finally understand that reaction, the sense that someone has taken your own thoughts and emotions and explained them to you. GROSSE POINTE BLANK is my SIXTEEN CANDLES, released a decade late.

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