Shake the Scene: Grosse Pointe Blank


Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)

The Scenes: John Cusack attempts martial arts

Why We Hate This Scene: Truth be told, I was hoping that John Cusack’s crime comedy and pseudo-love letter to the 80s was going to be a Cinemea Culpa post since I hated the movie 20 years ago. But after giving it a second try last night, I hated it even more. In fact I despise it.

I grew up loving and idolizing John Cusack and his flicks. He was a great comedic actor and even could do decent dramatic movies like Stand By Me and Eight Men Out. But it was his quirky comedies like The Sure Thing, Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer and Tapeheads that won me over. And then he starred in Say Anything and became the quintessential hapless, hopeless romantic. His Lloyd Dobler may not have aged as well as he should have but it’s a one-of-a-kind character to me still. Boombox and Peter Gabriel or bust.

His career kinda sputtered out of control in the 90s with some decent flicks here and there but then 1997 came and Cusack seemed to go off the rails with Grosse Point Blank and Con Air. I understand an actor’s need to branch out and do different roles and do more challenging genres but sheesh those two were downright horrible. Grosse Point Blank (GPB) at least tried to be a comedy but it totally failed. Watching it again last night I think I laughed twice and both was because of Dan Aykroyd. The film even somehow completely wasted Alan Arkin’s talents.

Seriously, watch it and tell me how unfunny it is. Jeremy Piven—unfunny. Joan Cusack—unfunny. Hank Azaria—unfunny! There’s a pointless scene at the high school reunion that has a young Jenna Elfman in a backbrace and again she’s totally unfunny. I’ll talk more about the reunion scene in a moment but I wanted to stress that there is so many jokes or funny scenes that fall flat it’s astonishing. This is directed by George Armitage and don’t bother looking him up because he’s only directed about 4 motion pictures and they were all box office bombs save for GPB. I wonder if a more capable director made this flick would it have been better and I’m willing to bet money that it would. According to imdb trivia, Armitage filmed so much that he basically could have 3 different cuts of the film. I wonder if the other two are better? It’s an interesting theory and I would entertain the idea of seeing the other cuts to find out because I know deep in its heart, GPB could and should be a good movie. The tone is just executed so poorly. It’s like it wanted to be a black comedy but they forgot the comedy. It tried to be nostalgic but it hardly talked about the past. It hoped to be a love story about star-crossed lovers but they failed in the crossed stars aspect. So many missteps in this feature.

For those unfamiliar with this flick its concept is relatively simple. Cusack plays a contract assassin who is more or less going through an existential crisis with his career. On top of this, he receives an invitation to attend his 10-year high school reunion. Without much reluctance, he goes back to his hometown and is actually looking forward to reconnecting with his high school sweetheart (Minnie Driver) whom he left without a reason on prom night. Hot on his heels is another assassin, Aykroyd, who tries in vain to get Cusack to join his assassin’s union. However, Aykroyd also wants Cusack dead because he’s stealing his marks. (It makes little sense) No hilarity ensue when Cusack meets old friends, (like Piven, whose character is like every other annoying Piven role), finds out his old home is now a convenience store and that he has another assassin trailing him as well as NSA agents hoping to catch Cusack in the act when he also has a new assignment to kill. The film is a slog and so utterly dull, you would wish that contract killers would snuff you out.

I like the premise enough but I hate the idea of Cusack playing a highly-trained, cold-blooded assassin. Cusack is never a tough guy. Just listen to him, he just doesn’t fit that mould. But suspending that disbelief enough, the rest of the movie just doesn’t work on multiple levels, one being how unfunny it is and the other is the love story between Cusack and Driver. First of all, she’s really annoying in this movie. She’s trying to be ultra-hip and cool being the town’s radio DJ as well as being so unfazed by Cusack who left him without a trace 10 years previous. The film should’ve been more realistic in that their reconnection should’ve been way more strenuous and she loathing him for spurning her a decade back. Their first scene together, she immediately kisses him! It makes zero sense and the rest of their relationship is so easy-going it’s like they never left each other. She never really gives him the cold shoulder and accepts all his advances. They even go to the reunion together like a normal couple. It’s the laziest sub-plot of a film I ever saw.

The high school reunion scene is a complete waste as well. It should’ve been the main highlight of the movie but it’s pointless being in this movie. Cusack (and Driver for that matter) have no qualms about attending. I’ve had 2 HS reunions and there’s always trepidation in “should I waste my time catching up with people I used to know back in my teen years, yada yada yada” Reliving the past and waxing nostalgic is always met with caution and possibly despair. But they never had an issue with that. It would also seem that their HS had maybe 40 people there in the old gymnasium (again, with the events being AT the actual school) and there was a minuscule attempt at the awkward nostalgia between Cusack and old classmates. I had a chuckle realizing that an old bully of Cusack’s was played by Abraham from The Walking Dead but his scene of drunkingly trying to start a fight with Cusack but then reading a lousy poem fell flat. One classmate tried to pimp out his career (I forget what it was because it wasn’t entertaining in the least) and gave Cusack his business pen, which Cusack uses later to kill an assassin. There was a somewhat sweet moment when Cusack was talking to a woman who brought her newborn baby to the reunion (Wait! What?) and he seemed to have an epiphany about quitting and settling down kind of scene. The only reason it was nice to me was because Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” was playing in the background.

Speaking of the music, that’s pretty much the only good thing about this failure of a film. Lots of 80s hits but also not so common hits of the era that you know were hand-picked by Cusack himself like The Clash, The Specials and The (English) Beat. Most 80s movies would stick to the Duran Duran or Culture Club but this film’s soundtrack was more unique than most. So credit is due there.

But if you want to see a back to the 80s high school reunion movie done correctly, go see Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion. This movie certainly floundered a wasted opportunity in making a hitman go back to his old high school and try to reconnect with normal boring classmates.

The fight scenes and gunfights were also disjointed and boring. The scene I’m highlighting today is the fisticuffs match up between Cusack and Benny “The Jet” Urquidez (he’s a world champion martial artist—“Kickboxing, sport of the future?”) I’m not sure whose idea was to make John Cusack fight martial arts but I’m flabbergasted at how awkward this fight scene turned out. See, it was funny when he tried it in Say Anything because it was John Cusack, here it looks silly when it’s supposed to be serious.

I’ve already wasted too much time critiquing this terrible movie. I’m just content in knowing it never got a “cult” following which proves how lackluster it really is. I’m still confused why Cusack considers this one of his personal favorites. Maybe he never really liked his quirky teen comedies as much as his fans did. But at least he redeemed himself with his back to the 80s nostalgia flick with Hot Tub Time Machine which was actually very funny. But it’s a real shame that a 80s reunion movie with Cusack was so terribly executed. He deserved way better.

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