John Cusack is so charismatic that his very presence enhances the likability of a film. Grosse Pointe Blank, a black romantic comedy from 1997, finds him at his tenable prime, his subversively charismatic façade weaving into the contemptuously humorous makings of the film with dexterity. In it, he portrays Martin Blank, a hitman tiring of the monotonous butchery he faces on a day-to-day basis. Though in his late-20s, he has become one of the top assassins in his profession; he is only really rivaled by Mr. Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), a middle-aged legend with a bad habit of stealing jobs right out from under Martin’s nose.
But all the Tom & Jerry antics are growing old, and, after much contemplation, Martin hesitantly decides to go back to his hometown of Grosse Pointe, MI for his ten-year high school reunion. While there, he hopes to rekindle his romantic relationship with Debi (Minnie Driver), the girl he left behind (and stood up for prom), and start life anew. But making major life changes is no easy task for someone who kills for a living — so it’s no surprise that Mr. Grocer and a pair of government agents (Hank Azaria and K. Todd Freeman) follow Martin to the small Michigan town planning for the worst.
One might expect Grosse Pointe Blank to be a severely dark comedy — what film dares to have their central character both be a gun-for-hire and a romantic lead? — but it is, peculiarly, tender and genially witty, would-be fizzy entertainment if not for all the, ahem, dead bodies. The murky angles of the film seems like quaint little drawbacks instead of reminders of black-hearted instincts; there are times where we forget that our hero has favored guns over an emotional connection for nearly his entire life. Grosse Pointe Blank is just too charming to be overtly sadistic.
Much of this can be indebted to the chemistry between Cusack and Driver, who were born to play opposite each other. Paralleling are their attractive but not movie star attractive good looks, their distinctly intelligent personality types. It doesn’t feel as though they’re going through the motions of a characterization, rather playing themselves and enjoying each other’s company. Whether it’s all stupendously configured movie fakery I can hardly tell; their quick-witted repartee glides by with the smoothness of Uma Thurman and John Travolta passing the time over milkshakes and twist contests. The romantic relationship doesn’t feel forced simply because Cusack and Driver seem too slick to give their soul to someone else anyway. Feelings come as a surprise to them, and Grosse Pointe Blank reaps the benefits of that naturalness.
Also making memorable appearances are Joan Cusack, as Martin’s capricious secretary, Jeremy Piven as the bored high school buddy, and Alan Arkin as the endlessly terrified therapist. Grosse Pointe Blank is a highlight among the ‘90s stewing of comedy, and, thanks to Cusack and company’s sharp screenplay, the dialogue stings as much as it warms the heart. It’s a rare case of black comedy gone gold. B+