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Grosse Pointe Blank(1997)
Martin Blank is a freelance hitman who starts to develop a conscience, which causes him to muff a couple of routine assignments. On the advice of his secretary and his psychiatrist, he attends his 10th year High School reunion in Grosse Pointe, Michigan (a Detroit suburb where he's also contracted to kill someone). Hot on his tail are a couple of over-enthusiastic federal agents, another assassin who wants to kill him, and Grocer, an assassin who wants him to join an "Assassin's Union."
For more about Grosse Pointe Blank and the Grosse Pointe Blank Blu-ray release, see Grosse Pointe Blank Blu-ray Review published by Kenneth Brown on August 9, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Director: George Armitage
Writers: D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack
Starring: John Cusack, Minnie Driver, Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, Joan Cusack, Hank Azaria
» See full cast & crew
Grosse Pointe Blank Blu-ray Review
"No, no. Psychopaths kill for no reason. I kill for money. It's a job. That didn't come out right."
Reviewed by Kenneth Brown, August 9, 2012
Cards on the table. Is there a better John Cusack film? Nope. Is there a better high school reunion flick? Not by my estimation. Is there a more on-target late '90s comedy to be had? Not in my collection. Is there any reason a moviegoer in 2012 shouldn't set aside two hours to host a fifteenth year reunion viewing of Grosse Point Blank? None that I can think of. Penned with a straight razor, deviously funny, fiendishly addicting, and feverishly ahead of its time, George Armitage's cult-favorite dark comedy hasn't aged gracefully; it's hardly aged at all. Yeah, its assassin vs. assassin action has soured a bit. Its late '90s digs are as quaintly dated now as the '80s flashbacks they induce, and Cusack's downbeat hitman is as much of a question mark as he was all those years ago. And yet it somehow only adds to Grosse Pointe's killer cocktail of laughs, romance, gunplay, '80s music and middle-age nostalgia, doubling down on the memories it stirs up and cashing in on two trips back through time.
They all have husbands and wives and children and houses and dogs, and, you know, they've all made themselves a part of something, and they can talk about what they do. What am I gonna say? "I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork. How've you been?"
Martin Blank (John Cusack) has a problem. His 10th high school reunion is on the horizon and he has no desire to go home, a hesitance that raises concern with his shrink, Dr. Oatmen (Alan Arkin), and his secretary Marcella (Joan Cusack). Oh... and then there's Mr. Grocer (played to delirious perfection by an F-bombing Dan Aykroyd), a rival assassin who begins sabotaging Blank's contract kills in an effort to muscle good ol' Marty into joining his newly founded hitman union. I suppose that's the more pressing problem. Did I mention Dr. Oatmen is only seeing Blank because he's afraid of what might happen if he permanently kicks a professional killer to the curb? Or that Marcella is the one who handles all of Martin's contracts and intel? Or that he's also being tailed by a pair of NSA agents on Grocer's payroll (Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman), hunted by an ex-terrorist (Benny Urquidez), and dealing with feelings of isolation and deep-seated regret? And yet it's his high school reunion that scares him the most. Wrap your head around that one. He decides to attend, of course, but only because there's a high-dollar contract within driving distance of his home town. But with his reunion comes some unfinished business: Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver), the girl Martin stood up the night he disappeared ten years earlier.
If that doesn't put you in the mood for Grosse Pointe Blank, not much else will. Cusack is dead on as the gloomy, fatalistic hitter who finds love and the promise of new life while visiting his childhood stomping grounds. And every angry rant, begrudging acceptance and bloody kill only makes the lovelorn loner that much more lovable. Driver is on point as well; grounded, feisty and wounded, with just enough lingering hope and longing to make their under-fire romance sizzle. Martin doesn't get his run of things either. Debi may have been left hanging at her senior prom, but any reconciliation comes on her terms, a nice little bolt of karma Driver is more than eager to embrace and Cusack is more than gracious to accept. (Is Driver exorcising her own high school demons? Is Cusack revisiting his own regrets? It certainly seems so.) Arkin and Aykroyd are pitch perfect too, the former full of nervous, irritated energy and the latter unleashing a string of profane poetry so hilarious that it nearly steals the show. Aykroyd, in particular, is clearly having a blast, rocketing over the top with a performance so frenzied and deranged that it works on every level, making Grocer both a real threat and an absolute treat to watch. His rat- a-tat-tat diatribes and barbs are the worth the price of admission alone, and his run-ins with Cusack are wild fun. And John's big sister? Joan Cusack rounds out the cast brilliantly (even though she never actually enters the fray), bringing tough love and a hard line to every on-screen chat she shares with her little brother. Art imitating life? I suspect as much.
It isn't just the performances -- or even the tone and tenor of Tom Jankiewicz's story and script (co-written with the help of D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink and John Cusack) -- that renders the film such a successful merging of genre extremes. It's that Jankiewicz, his co-writers, and Armitage grant the cast so much freedom. Grosse Pointe is either one of the most ingenious casting coups of the '90s or, as is more likely the case, a masterfully guided convergence of the real and hyper-real. Martin is Cusack. A caricaturized Cusack, but one that allows John, not Martin, to dig up his past and sift through the dirt for the sake of the movie. Debi is Driver, blurring the lines between performance and truth. Even Aykroyd, off his meds and emptying magazines with glee, is pure, distilled Aykroyd. Crazy, yes. Crazy pent up deep within the SNL alum? Absolutely. By his own admission. Actors always use something of themselves to make their roles richer. You don't need me to tell you that. But it isn't often that an ensemble is given leave to completely inhabit their characters, especially in a film as riotous, outrageous and improbable as Grosse Pointe Blank. And everything else follows. The reunion, the reconciliations, the regrets, the old friends, former flames and quirky tag-alongs dealing with their own issues... funny and riddled with bullets as Martin's trip home is, it all rings true. If you've never had the pleasure, there's no time like the present. (Or the past.) Now if only Cusack hadn't peaked in 1997. Wouldn't that be something. Who knows, though? Maybe one day we'll get that Grosse Pointe sequel I've been dreaming of (and all at once dreading) for fifteen years.
Grosse Pointe Blank Blu-ray, Video Quality
Disney's 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer takes its high definition shot... and misses. Minted from what appears to be a dated, DVD-era master, the image suffers from overzealous edge enhancement and thick halos (some of which will cause even the most casual of viewers to take notice); inconsistent, occasionally off-putting contrast leveling; at-times unnatural, pink-tainted fleshtones; and a few brief but thankfully minor bursts of banding and artifacting. The edge halos are the most troubling issue, though, and make a nuisance of themselves from Blank's opening hotel-window hit to his final showdown with Grocer. Noise reduction and other filtering techniques have been utilized, but not too heavily employed, as evidenced by the film's generally pleasant veneer of grain and instances of notable fine detailing, some of which are quite impressive, all things considered. Still, softness and a slight pudginess is apparent, and only a portion of it traces back to Jamie Anderson's original photography. Yes, closeups are teeming with well-preserved textures and other nuances that simply didn't come through on DVD (even though midrange shots don't fare so well). Yes, colors are warmer, primaries more vivid, black levels deeper, and delineation the tiniest bit more revealing. And yes, however problematic the presentation may be, Grosse Pointe Blank's Blu-ray debut outclasses its DVD counterpart. Not by a whole lot, though, making the hit-or-miss upgrade as rewarding as it is disappointing. A new master would have, without a doubt, produced more dramatic results. Blank is yet another highly anticipated Disney catalog title doomed to years of bargain-priced limbo.
Grosse Pointe Blank Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Disney's video transfer may be riddled with issues, but its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track escapes largely unscathed. The Clash's Joe Strummer supplies Grosse Pointe's score and it sounds fantastic. Just not as fantastic as the '80s hits that accompany it. Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun," Queen and David Bowie's "Under Pressure," Johnny Nash's "I Can See Clearly Now," and Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open the Door" (among many, many others). Is there a better '80s soundtrack mix on the market? Thankfully, each song is given full run of the place, filling the entire soundfield with stripped down punk vocals, buzzsaw power chords, dizzying New Wave rhythms, and whatever else might scream unforgettable '80s music, upstaging anything and everything that tries to best it. That said, the LFE channel and rear speakers are primarily devoted to the music. Gunfire, car chases and the occasional explosion delivers some healthy low-end kick and cross-channel ricochets, but the conversational nature of the film, however rapidfire it gets, makes many a scene a front-heavy affair and little more. There's a commendable amount of ambience and acoustic touches, sure. But it's all light, delicate and only mildly enveloping. The same goes for dialogue, which is crisp and clean on the whole but, every now and then, a tad stuffy and under-prioritized. Not that it matters much overall. Grosse Pointe Blank has simply never sounded better, and what few, easily shrugged off shortcomings its lossless track exhibits seem to be rooted in the film's original sound design, nothing more.
Grosse Pointe Blank Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
The only extra included is Grosse Pointe Blank's theatrical trailer (SD, 2 minutes).
Grosse Pointe Blank Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
I look forward to the day that studios stop tossing around the words "Anniversary Edition" with abandon. The words "15th Anniversary Edition" may grace the Blu-ray edition of Grosse Pointe Blank's coverart, but it should be taken as loosely as possible. The film itself still delivers, and its DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is Anniversary caliber. Sadly, its video presentation is dated and dreary (despite nudging past its DVD counterpart), its supplemental package is dead and lifeless, and there isn't a new (or, really, even an old) special feature to speak of. If you love Grosse Pointe Blank as much as I do, this one will earn a place on your shelves regardless. If you've never seen it, don't let any low scores scare you away. If you're convinced a better transfer is inbound one day, then by all means keep waiting. Maybe the film's 20th Anniversary Edition will get it right.
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