Friday, August 5, 2011

Hitman Double-feature with John Cusack

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997)
Starring: John Cusack, Minnie Driver, and Dan Aykroyd
Director: George Armitage
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

Martin Blank (Cusack) is a professional hitman who has grown disenchanted with his career choice. When he attends his 10-year high school reunion and reconnects with roots and childhood sweetheart, Debi (Driver), he decides to quit the life for good. But he first has to deal with some loose ends, such as Grocer (Ackroyd), a rival hitman who wants Blank to join the hitman union he's organizing; a killer out to avenge a dead hunting dog; and the last job that will let him start his new life.

"Grosse Pointe Blank" is a hilarious black comedy that constrast internationally renowned assassins with common everyday events and people--Blank's secretary and business manager sums up the film nicely when she explains why she finds the invite to his 10th high school reunion funny, because it shows that he "came from somewhere."

While the movie does confirm the adage "you can never go home again"--like when Blank discovers his childhood home is gone and replaced by a mini-mart--it does give a nice message about second chances and that it's never too late to pick a new and better path in life. This running thread gives both the film and the character of Martin Blank a dimension that many films being made decade plus are lacking, because they either all seem to present a world that is hopeless or one of easy answers; while "Grosse Pointe Blank" is ultimately about hope and positive change, it also makes a clear point that there are no easy solutions to life's big problems.

All the actors give great performances, the dialogue is sharp and funny; and the technical aspects are all pretty close to perfect, including the music soundtrack (although I'm sure some may complain that a realistic fight scene between Blank and an assassin stalking him is "lame"). The upbeat, casual atmosphere that permeates the fllm is also something that adds to the overall amusing quality, given what Martin Blank and many of the other characters to do a living.

I recommend this film highly to anyone who enjoys dark comedies that rely on wit over gross-outs.

War, Inc. (2008)
Starring: John Cusack, Marisa Tomei, Hilary Duff, Joan Cusack, Ben Kingsley, Dan Aykroyd, and Montel Williams
Director: Joshua Seftel
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

A high-priced hitman (Cusack) finds himself strangely bothered by his conscience when a job in wartorn Turaqistan brings him in contact with a troubled Turaqi pop idol (Duff) and a crusading reporter (Tomei).

"War, Inc." is a satire dealing with everything that's wrong with the way America has been waging war over the past decade or so while also taking jabs at the lazy media and the hypocrites on all sides of the "clash of cultures" between the Western world and that dominated by followers of Islam.

The film is an unofficial sequel to "Grosse Pointe Blank", with John Cusack and Joan Cusack reprising their characters from that film--even if they are going by different names. The Walt Disney Company which owns the rights to "Grosse Point Blank", would not allow the filmmakers to use the characters from the original film, so they renamed everyone... but Martin Blank is still Martin Blank, even if it's 20 years later and he's going by a different name.

Although the film is a little too gentle with most of the targets it skewers, it's well acted, well filmed and well paced. It's also very funny--except perhaps to journalists, self-serving politicians, international businessmen, self-important people from any country that ends in -stan, and trade show organizers. The rest of us will have an okay time, even if we will often find ourselves wondering why the filmmakers didn't push that joke a little further or why they seem timid when firing at certain targets.

It's not a perfect film, but it deserves more attention that it's gotten. It certainly didn't deserve to crash as hard financially as it did.

"War Inc." reportedly cost $10 million to make, but it barely cleared $500,000 during its run in theaters and it hasn't done much better on DVD. Given the many craptacular films with similar themes that preceded it in theaters at the time--anti-American propaganda garbage and hamfisted anti-war films like "Redacted" and "Lions for Lambs"--I'm not surprised no one bothered with this fun and clever movie, myself included.

If you liked "Grosse Pointe Blank" or if you're a fan of John Cusack and/or Marisa Tomei, you need to seek this movie out before it falls into complete obscurity. You won't regret it.


  1. I haven't seen War, Inc., but I did very much enjoy Grosse Pointe Blank for the campy black comedy it was. I think his secretary lady is one of the best parts of the movie. Great review! Definitely made me want to revisit the movie.