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Grosse Pointe Blank Blu-ray Review

Grosse Pointe Blank (1997) movie poster Grosse Pointe Blank

Theatrical Release: April 11, 1997 / Running Time: 107 Minutes / Rating: R / Songs List

Director: George Armitage / Writers: Tom Jankiewicz (story & screenplay); D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink, John Cusack (screenplay)

Cast: John Cusack (Martin Q. Blank), Minnie Driver (Debi Newberry), Alan Arkin (Dr. Oatman), Dan Aykroyd (Grocer), Joan Cusack (Marcella), Jeremy Piven (Paul Spericki), Hank Azaria (Steven Lardner), Barbara Harris (Mary Blank), Mitchell Ryan (Mr. Bart Newberry), K. Todd Freeman (Kenneth McCullers), Michael Cudlitz (Bob Destepello), Benny Urquidez (Felix La Poubelle), Duffy Taylor (Ultimart Carl), Audrey Kissel (Arlene Oslott-Joseph), Carlos Jacott (Ken), Brian Powell (Husky Man), Ann Cusack (Amy), D.V. DeVincentis (Dan Koretzky), Wendy Thorlakson (Melanie the Waitress), Belita Moreno (Mrs. Kinetta), Pat O'Neill (Nathaniel), Jenna Elfman (Tanya), Steve Pink (Terry Rostand), Traci Dority (Jenny Slater)

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John Cusack made one of the smoothest transitions from child to adult acting that the film industry has ever seen. As a teenager, Cusack quickly graduated from supporting roles (Sixteen Candles) to lead ones (The Sure Thing, Better Off Dead). By his early twenties, he was playing grown-up parts in acclaimed dramas (Eight Men Out, The Grifters) and he's never really looked back.
How many actors given top billing in 1985 are still regularly enjoying that honor on wide theatrical releases? Chevy Chase? Danny Glover? Robert Redford? Paul Reubens? Even those of a comparable, marketable age -- like Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall -- continue to find work but not to the same degree. Cusack enjoyed above-the-title billing as recently as last spring's The Raven.

In that regard, the 46-year-old actor is like a little piece of walking Hollywood history, though clearly undersung as such. He's never been nominated for an Academy Award and only once competed for a Golden Globe. Recognition could probably be easily attained on television, but Cusack has shown almost no interest whatsoever in that medium. A number of his early movies weren't taken seriously by critics and even his more recent ones that sit well with audiences (1408, Identity, Runaway Jury) fall just short of professional accolades. Through it all, Cusack remains likable, even when his movies or outspoken political views are not.

Two of Cusack's seven highest-rated IMDb credits come to Blu-ray Disc early next month from Buena Vista Home Video. Both are R-rated comedies from the turn of the century that gave Cusack a screenplay credit along with a starring role. The slightly better regarded one, the Stephen Frears-directed 2000 Nick Hornby adaptation High Fidelity (the source of Cusack's one Globes nod), did not do much for me when I saw it years ago, so I won't be reviewing it. I get more enjoyment out of the other release: Grosse Pointe Blank, a less pretentious and more fun 1997 vehicle which hits high definition in an accurately-timed 15th Anniversary Edition.

Martin Blank (John Cusack) aims two guns past a Breathe Right model as part of his impromptu Ultimart shootout. Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver) mulls over the meaning of her high school boyfriend's re-entry into her life over the airwaves of her local radio show.

If people used the phrase "John Cusack movie" to refer to a specific type of cinema, they'd probably most readily apply it to Grosse Pointe Blank, a single-hander that includes supporting roles for his two most frequent colleagues: older sister Joan Cusack and longtime pal Jeremy Piven. John is in what may be his most typical form here: pensive, soft-spoken, a little offbeat, and, above all, affable. Cusack's appeal and the film's savory setting go a long way to warm us to the dark plot and violent action leanings.

Cusack plays Martin Blank, a professional contract killer. Though successful at his job, his is a lonely and unfulfilling existence, with his old ties severed and even his family distant. At the urging of his loyal secretary (Joan Cusack), on the advice of his fearful shrink (Alan Arkin) and against his own better judgment, Martin decides to attend his ten-year high school reunion in the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. With an important hit scheduled nearby on the same weekend, Martin returns home to see his classmates.

Most important among them is Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver), a local radio DJ whom Martin stood up on prom night ten years ago. Debi has maintained a recurring role in Martin's dreams and patching things up with her is one of the trip's top priorities. Also ranking high on the list: staying alive. That task is threatened by a number of individuals tailing Martin: shady rival assassin Grocer (Dan Aykroyd) who is pressuring Martin to unionize, two government agents (Hank Azaria, K. Todd Freeman) hired by Grocer to catch Martin in a criminal act, and a "ghoul" (Benny Urquidez) assigned to kill in retribution for a prized dog's accidental death.

Martin's deadly line of work is at odds with the rest of the film, as he catches up with old friends (like Piven), takes stock of his morally flexible life, and looks to reconnect with the one that got away.

Grocer (Dan Aykroyd) issues Martin a stern warning to join the hitman union he's forming. In a brief but third-billed role, Alan Arkin plays Dr. Oatman, who makes it clear he'd rather not be Martin's therapist.

With Pointes High's Class of 1986 reuniting, the movie is fittingly full of 1980s music. Not just any old '80s pop, either, but songs that didn't quite top the charts yet successfully withstood a decade and continue to please the ears. They are well selected to complement scenes: David Bowie and Queen's "Under Pressure" backing a poignant baby hold and a brief but reassuring conversation about settling down, Pete Townshend's "Let My Love Open the Door" tastefully prompting a slow dance between our lead couple, and the Violent Femmes' "Blister in the Sun" winning well-deserved new life getting played at both ends of the film.
Even when there is distance between a song and onscreen action (e.g. Nena's upbeat German protest song "99 Luftballons" accompanying the film's darkest and bloodiest encounter), the discord somehow works and adds to the experience. Though the film was no huge hit in theaters, its music was appreciated enough to warrant not one but two soundtracks. (Full list of featured music appears at the bottom of this review.)

Given his 1980s teen stardom, Cusack is aptly cast. He somehow imbues his amoral lethal protagonist with sweetness and remorse, making us crave his redemption and even appreciate his unorthodox lifestyle. Minnie Driver is perfect across from him, providing playfulness and an impeccable American accent. After a couple of years of increasingly prominent credits, Driver would see her career take off later that year courtesy of her Oscar-nominated turn in Good Will Hunting. Even in limited screentime, supporting cast members like Piven, Carlos Jacott, Michael Cudlitz, and Mitch Ryan hit their marks and make lasting impressions. It's interesting to notice how in the fifteen years since this film, Alan Arkin has done much more of note (I'm referring to more than just his Oscar win) than Dan Aykroyd, whose biggest sources of recent relevance have been Yogi Bear, shilling his Vodka-filled crystal skulls, and vowing to see Ghostbusters III finally realized. Both prominently billed actors give entertaining unstable turns here.

Grosse Pointe Blank certainly grows on you in repeat viewings, as the shock of its carnage wears off. It is still not a great movie, but a highly entertaining and unconventionally feel-good one built upon a thoughtful examination of an age rarely analyzed with any weight.

Grosse Pointe Blank Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.85:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Not Closed Captioned; Extra Subtitled
Release Date: August 7, 2012
Suggested Retail Price: $15.99 (Reduced from $20.00)
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50)
Blue Keepcase with Side Snap
Still available on DVD (May 19, 1998) and Amazon Instant Video
Previously released as VHS (April 28, 1998), 2-Movie Collection DVD with High Fidelity (September 11, 2007), and DVD + Digital Copy (September 15, 2009)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Disney's newfound appreciation for live-action catalog Blu-rays has produced some underwhelming results in presentation. Fortunately, the comparably young Grosse Pointe Blank has been treated right. The 1.85:1 transfer boasts great picture quality. The frame stays clean, sharp, and detailed throughout, with only brief, rare shots lacking in any way. Having revisited the film's letterboxed DVD just one year ago, I can say with confidence that this release offers the significant visual improvement that you would hope for and expect of 1080p. It's worth mentioning, however, that the colors have a slightly aged look to them.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio doubtlessly trumps the DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack too, although it makes slight use of the sound field, using surround channels to ever so slightly reinforce music and such. Even the few shootout scenes refrain from supplying directionality, as sensible as that would have been. The mix warrants no complaints and I imagine it's true to the film's original design. Just don't expect anything above and beyond what a late-'90s comedy would deliver.

Even a hit man...: the theatrical trailer cracks a funny with its tagline. As cover and menu art, Disney continues to get good use of this original poster design.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Despite the Anniversary Edition moniker and the popularity evidenced by Disney releasing this Blu-ray themselves
instead of farming the movie out to Mill Creek, the studio still offers no bonus features other than the unadvertised inclusion of Grosse's original theatrical trailer (2:18), in 1.33:1 standard definition. It would be surprising for there not to have been deleted scenes, but then I can't even recall the last time new extras were produced for a non-new live-action movie from one of Disney's secondary divisions (2005 maybe?). This barebones edition makes clear that this film sadly won't be getting anything new anytime soon.

The disc opens with trailers for Frankenweenie, The Avengers, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit: 25th Anniversary Edition as well as an anti-smoking truth promo. The first three also play from the menu's "Sneak Peeks" listing, along with ads for first season ABC dramas and "Castle": The Complete Fourth Season.

The menu plays a rare piece of instrumental music over the cover art. This being a Disney Blu-ray, the disc doesn't resume playback, nor does it support the placing of bookmarks. The plain blue disc is housed in a plain blue slipcover with a side-snap and no reverse artwork or insert. Though Grosse Pointe Blank was one of a handful of catalog titles Disney reissued in DVD + Digital Copy combo packs a couple of years back (all since discontinued), no such luxury is provided here.

Martin (John Cusack) and Debi (Minnie Driver) make the rounds at their 10-year high school reunion, stopping a moment here to hear from a former classmate in a neck brace (Jenna Elfman in her film debut).

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Grosse Pointe Blank is a likable little movie and one of John Cusack's stronger works. It holds up well on repeat viewings, neither dated by its 1980s nostalgia nor its mid-1990s production values. This 15th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray is unsurprisingly a letdown in the bonus features department, but it does provide a fantastic feature presentation sure to please and vastly superior to the film's non-anamorphic DVD. The disc is priced low enough for fans to consider picking up at some point in time. At the very least, you should see this fun comedy.

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Dan Ayrkoyd: Yogi Bear Trading Places | Hank Azaria: Run Fatboy Run Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian
Joan Cusack: Ice Princess Kit Kittredge: An American Girl Confessions of a Shopaholic Mars Needs Moms | Barbara Harris: Freaky Friday
Alan Arkin: The Rocketeer Get Smart City Island The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause | Minnie Driver: Tarzan
1990s Movies: Men in Black Rushmore Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Shallow Grave Jackie Brown The Big Lebowski
Young Adult Ferris Bueller's Day Off Adventureland Sky High

Grosse Pointe Blank Songs List (in order of use): Johnny Nash - "I Can See Clearly Now", Joe Strummer and Richard Norris - "War Cry", Jacques van Oortmerseen - "Johannes Brahms: Fugue in A Minor", Violent Femmes - "Blister in the Sun", Guns N' Roses - "Live and Let Die", Adam Fields - "Live and Let Die", The Clash - "Armagideon Time", The Clash - "Rudy Can't Fail", The Jam - "Absolute Beginners", The Specials - "Pressure Drop", Echo & the Bunny Men - "The Killing Moon", The Specials - "A Message to You Rudy", The Pixies - "Monkey Gone to Heaven", Motorhead - "Ace of Spades", The Cure - "In Between Days", The Eels - "Your Lucky Day in Hell", Tracy Bonham - "Sharks Can't Sleep", The Burros - "Little Luxuries", The Specials - "You're Wondering Now", Jimmy Reed - "Big Boss Man", Faith No More - "We Care a Lot", Bobby Bare - "Detroit City", a-ha - "Take On Me", Grandmaster Melle Mel - "White Lines", The Bangles - "Walk Like an Egyptian", David Bowie (with Queen) - "Under Pressure", Siouxsie & The Banshees - "Cities in Dust", Pete Townshend - "Let My Love Open the Door", Tones on Tail - "Go", Dominatrix - "The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight", Los Fabulosos Cadillacs - "El Matador", The Dazz Band - "Let It Whip", The English Beat - "Mirror in the Bathroom", Nena - "99 Luftballons", The English Beat - "Doors of Your Heart", The Pogues - "Lorca's Novena"

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Reviewed July 29, 2012.



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