Some high school graduates go into real estate. Others become hitmen. The hitmen are much funnier and infinitely more interesting to hang out with — at least if they’re anything like Martin Q. Blank (John Cusack), the personable, laconic suburbia-bred killer dead center in the zingy, deadpan-hilarious comedy Grosse Pointe Blank (Hollywood, R). Martin’s got a booming business going, thanks to his admirable calm under pressure (when we meet him, he’s chatting on a hotel-room phone, pausing only to pick off his bike-riding quarry on the street below) and the martinet efficiency of his devoted office manager, Marcella (Joan Cusack, looking passably like a demented Gillian Anderson).
But he’s also got a case of existential blues. The career doesn’t fulfill him. He faithfully keeps his therapy appointments with Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin), but the shrink hates his patient and tries to dodge his calls. A competing hired gun called Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), peeved that his rival won’t join the hitman union he’s organizing, would like to rub him out. And then there’s some unfinished business with Martin’s ex-girlfriend, Debi (Minnie Driver), for whom he still carries a torch. So when Marcella urges her boss to take advantage of his upcoming 10-year high school reunion to see the old affluent nabe (the Detroit suburb of the title) and maybe work things out with Debi, Martin cautiously agrees. (What’ll he do for conversation, he worries, tell classmates ”I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork”?)
Grosse Pointe Blank (the title echoes John Boorman’s 1967 hitman thriller Point Blank, but Lee Marvin didn’t have Jeremy Piven as a high school buddy), directed at a trust-smart-viewers pace by George Armitage (Miami Blues), is buoyed aloft in its warped universe of as-seen-on-TV violence and late-Gen-X irony with an unusually keen-witted script by novice screenwriters Steve Pink, D.V. DeVincentis, Tom Jankiewicz, and John Cusack. (”Whoa, Chatty Cathy,” Grocer cautions Blank during a heated discussion, ”clip your string!”) And happy performances pick up the ball. Cusack’s default acting style — a little arch, a little Bullets Over Broadway — is brightened by his association with effervescent sister Joan (Cusack sibs Ann and Bill also have small roles). Driver (Big Night), with the most thankless role (in the least interesting part of the yarn) as The Offbeat Girlfriend, finds ways to amuse herself, and us. Arkin is … Arkin (that’s a good thing). With such a cast, Grosse Pointe Blank achieves a loose, distinctive comedy rhythm. (Using the word of the moment, it feels independent.) High school reunions should only be this satisfying — and hitmen this open-minded about the value of psychotherapy. A-