It seems to me that this must have been based on a book. Sure, I could look it up easily enough in this day and age, but why? It doesn’t matter. For my purposes, what matters is that it feels like a movie based on a book. It has a good cast too, though it is a bit of an oddball group, full of ’80s movie stars who have faded a bit or B-tier folks. The script is fine even if the plot is rather full of angsty why-can’t-I-stay-a-high-schooler, being-a-grown-up-is-hard nonsense that so many of the movies in the last 30 years have in abundance.
John Cusack is Martin Blank, a hitman who returns to his hometown of Grosse Pointe for a high-school reunion since it’s in the neighborhood of an assignment anyway. He’s been urged to attend by both his secretary (an hilarious small part for John’s sister Joan) and his reluctant therapist (Alan Arkin). It’s a bit absurd, but Martin is having doubts about his profession, feeling pressure from a rival hitman named Grocer (Dan Akroyd), and is generally in the throes of a mid-life crisis. A lot of the humor in this film derives from this absurd juxtaposition of exotic, theatric criminality and the mundane, quiet desperation many folks encounter at some point in their lives.
During his return, we come to learn that 15 years earlier Blank had simply vanished without a word to anyone; including his girlfriend and prom date (Minnie Driver). She’s a radio DJ now, not that it matters except for about one scene. Blank wanders around town for a couple days before the reunion, putting off doing the hit, reconnecting with old friends, trying to keep the feds, Grocer, and others off his back while he tries to work out which direction he wants to take.
It’s an odd movie that doesn’t fit too neatly into any particular genre niche. It’s clearly a romantic comedy, but with much more action, more explosions, and a lot more death than is typical of the genre. As you might expect, the comedy tends to be rather darker and more minor-key than is customary in a romantic film also. That being said, there are a few moments of uplift which I find extremely pleasing. Blank at one point encounters a former teacher and their conversation is touching though light-hearted. When his old friend Paul (Jeremy Piven) realizes that Martin has not, in fact, been joking about being a hitman, he shows himself to be the kind of friend we’d all want in such a situation. (I do wish a bit we were given one more scene with him to wrap that up.) But best of all, however, is when Blank reunites with an acquaintance at the reunion and is given a chance to hold her infant child. The awe and beauty of new life has a direct effect on the choices Blank makes.
Crucially, the movies never overplays its hand and fully submerges itself in bathos or becomes maudlin, but equally it doesn’t get overly comedic and lose touch entirely with the emotions at its core. Granted, the premise is fairly ridiculous, but it does manage to walk a pretty narrow line pretty successfully. It is a very funny comedy with a bit of a brain about which you can feel good while also being a bit of an over-the-top action film. You can see the ’80s action roots pretty clearly. The combination of elements makes for a pretty good date night movie. You even get a surprisingly storybook ending in light of the rather bonkers way the film opens.