Martin Blank freaked out at the end of high school, joined the Army, got into government spy games and later started his own professional killing business.
Blank tells his life story to everyone from his old high school flame to long-lost buddies in the 1997 film “Grosse Pointe Blank,” but no one believes him.
If Blank looked and acted like John Cusack, you wouldn’t, either.
Cusack shelved his nice guy mantle to play a contract killer in “Blank,” available for the first time on Blu-ray this week. Director George Armitage keeps the tone surprisingly light, and Cusack does most of the rest. You’ll be forgiven for not accepting that a veteran hit man is capable of changing his stripes, but a spry cast of veteran scene stealers help Cusack make the case.
Professional assassin Martin Blank (Cusack) is forced to travel to his home town after he botches an assignment and must make amends with his employer. As movie luck would have it, his high school’s 10-year reunion happens to be slotted for the same weekend of his planned kill. That convinces him to visit Debi (Minnie Driver), the girl he mysteriously stood up on Prom Night but has been thinking about ever since.
Martin will have to be nimble to stay alive long enough to win Debi back, especially since a fellow assassin (Dan Aykroyd) wouldn’t lose any sleep if Martin were no longer available to take his gigs.
Cusack isn’t abandoning the character traits which forged his early fame. He’s still a bit unpredictable with a sly smile and innocent demeanor. He just so happens to kill for a living, and he goes about his business with a ruthless efficiency.
He’s an emotional wreck all the same, passive aggressively threatening his psychologist (an underused Alan Arkin) in the hopes of repairing his shattered psyche. A scene where Martin visits his mother, a relatively young woman suffering some sort of dementia, doesn’t add much to Martin’s psychological portrait.
He’s better off spending time with Debi, a local deejay willing to hear Martin out while establishing her own ground rules for any brand of reconciliation.
The laughs in “Grosse Pointe Blank” arrive from multiple directions. We get the standard reunion gags, the sight of Martin trying to hide a dead body in a high school banner and the fizzy feuding whenever Debi is on screen.
“Grosse Pointe Blank” can’t fully resolve its moral murkiness. Martin kills too easily for us to fully accept his tortured state. Yet when he is forced to hold a baby at the high school reunion and gazes into wider than wide eyes, Cusack nails the look of a man reclaiming his humanity.
Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies