I’m not a big fan of romantic comedies, mainly because they tend to operate under a story “formula” that, to my eyes, has become all too predictable.
To begin, we have our main two characters (male and female). They meet, they fall in love with each other, sometimes right away, sometimes over a few minutes of screen time. Sometimes, they hate each other on the outset, but that’s only delaying the inevitable. They will fall in love with each other.
But there are complications. One of them, for example, may be engaged. Perhaps to the other’s best friend. Or maybe their meeting and love is some kind of con. Perhaps one of them was looking for a rich score, or trying to prove they could seduce anyone. In the end, they (say it all together now) truly fall in love. In the movie’s later acts, the truth of this deception comes out and it looks like the young lovers are destined to go their separate ways. Then, in the film’s final act, one or the other or both realize their love is true and they make up and live happily ever after.
Which, in a roundabout way, brings us to the 1997 film Grosse Point Blank. As I mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of romantic comedies. But like many things in life, there are exceptions. If there’s one romantic comedy that I can sit through multiple times, it is this film.
I’ve seen it several times, most recently over the weekend, and still get a chuckle out of it. Yes, the film follows the typical romantic comedy plot, but it is the unusual elements brought into the more standard ones that makes this film work so well.
To begin with, we’re not dealing with your typical protagonists. John Cusack is Martin Blank, hired killer, who is currently on a losing skid. We first meet him on one job where he’s hired to protect someone from a killer. He succeeds in his assignment…temporarily. His next job, a killing in Miami meant to look like a heart attack, is instead botched. He is forced to kill his target by far bloodier means. We further find that Blank is burned out with the job. He sees a (justifiably terrified) psychologist (Alan Arkin in what amounts to a cameo role, yet he is quite hilarious in his sparse scenes) and is being pressured by a psychotic fellow killer (Dan Aykroyd, also very funny in a someone bigger cameo role) to join his union…all while watching out that he doesn’t shoot him in the back.
Added to this mess is the fact that because of his botched jobs, Blank is being pressured to take on a “make up” job in Detroit, where he happens to have his 10th year High School Reunion coming up. Did I mention that Blank is obsessed with Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver, quite excellent as the grounded Yin to Blank’s highly eccentric Yang), a woman he abandoned on the night of their prom ten years before?
So the elements are all there for a truly oddball (and bloody!) romantic comedy. Old flames return to each other while Blank has to hide (in plain sight!) his job while avoiding assassins and CIA agents tasked to take him out, all while trying to set things right with the one time love of his life.
Grosse Point Blank isn’t Casablanca or Citizen Kane, but then again, very few films are. What this movie is is a funny and ultimately very satisfying variation on the romantic comedy formula. Sure, the elements outlined above are still there. But it is the outrageous outliers (the hired killers) that make this film strand out from so many in the pack. Recommended.