What if Lloyd Dobler lost his nerve, ran out on Diane, and became a hit man instead? That's just one of many ways to look at this very complex, very funny movie. The first time I heard a critic pan a film because "the script doesn't know what it wants to be" was in reference to Joe Dante's delicious Gremlins, and since then I have always translated that particular criticism as "I don't know how to pigeon-hole this movie and against which boilerplate genre-standards I should compare it". Stepping off from a premise that would not have been out of place in a conversation from The Player: "a professional assassin (John Cusack) goes to his ten-year high school reunion", Grosse Pointe Blank makes non-chalant transitions from Action Comedy (Grocer shouting "Workers of the world, unite!" as he plugs two gunmen who interrupt his attempt to recruit Martin Blank (Cusack) into his nascent Assassin's Guild) to Romantic Comedy (Debi forcing Blank into an on-air interrogation when he drops by her radio station to apologize for standing her up at the prom ten years previously) to Action Thriller (Blank in a surprisingly well-choreographed fight scene when a Basque mercenary surprises him searching his old locker for that joint that's still there after ten years) to Shameless Nostalgia (Blank discovering, to his delight, that his old English teacher still has the advantage over him, a professional killer) to Suburban Angst (Blank in a not-brief-enough visit with his lithium-ridden mother, followed by a libation of Glenlivet at his father's grave) to Understated Ironic Satire (Blank leaving solipsistic rationalizations on the answering machine of Dr. Oatman, a therapist whom he doesn't pay but instead extorts into weekly confessionals) to Existential Maunderings (Blank finally explaining to Debi (and to us) how he came to the point where killing for money was acceptable (and enjoyable)).
All these shifts cannot help but break any mood that might have been established, but I suspect director George Armitage accepted them (had the film been by Lynch, they would have been deliberate (and tiresome)) as necessary to showing the world of fractured relationships Blank lives with. Dramatic manifestations of high school reunions have always featured the theme of the gap between expectations and reality, and attempts to contrive fictions to fill that gap. Unlike Romy & Michele, however, Blank is well-practiced in self-examination and justifying himself, whether to his secretary Marcella, his colleague Grocer, his "therapist" Oatman, or to himself. I was quite bemused to note that with no important character back in Grosse Pointe (nor with many unimportant ones) does Blank embellish or obscure his personal history of the past ten years; he tells them he is a contract killer, but no one takes him at his word. Nevertheless, even though he is presented with example after absurd example of fellow "Pointers" failing to live up to their expectations, Blank still feels the sting of having stood Debi up, and he realizes that neither the cynicism of his last ten years nor the disillusionment to which he has returned relieves him of his obligation to make amends for his original sin (sic).
That it requires plot developments ranging from the treacly to the homicidal for Blank to make this realization might say something about the age demographic the film hopes to snare with its nostalgic trappings. I'm always the first to sneer at age-based generalizations (read: market strategies), but I'm not at all confident that my wholesale acceptance of Blank's character, dialogue, and behavior has nothing to do with being from the Class of 1986 myself (although I still didn't recognize half the songs in the soundtrack). I didn't go to my ten-year high school reunion. Had I known that Martin Blank would have been there, I still wouldn't have gone because guys like Blank never talked to me anyway.
Copyright © 1997 by Eric Scharf.  All rights reserved.