Professional assassin Martin Blank finds himself depressed and disillusioned with his work. A major problem is his chief rival Grocer, whose effort to incorporate the hitman business puts him at potentially lethal odds as he is unaffiliated. Following a botched contract, Martin receives an invitation to his 10-year high school reunion in his hometown of Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Initially reluctant to attend, he is persuaded into it by both his therapist, Dr. Oatman, and his secretary, Marcella. She books him a contract in Michigan that coincides with the reunion, ostensibly to make amends with the client whose contract was botched.
Upon arriving in Grosse Pointe, Martin reconnects with his childhood friend Paul and his high school sweetheart Debi Newberry, now a radio DJ, whom Martin had abandoned on prom night to enlist in the army. He also visits his mentally-ill mother in a retirement home, and the grave of his father (who is implied to had been a neglectful alcoholic). Meanwhile, Martin is being stalked by Felix LaPoubelle, another hitman who attempts to kill Martin in the convenience store built over his childhood home. He is also followed by two NSA agents who were tipped off to Martin's contract by Grocer. Despite these dangers, Martin remains distracted by his desire to win over Debi and fails to open the dossier on his target.
At the reunion, Martin and Debi mingle with their former classmates, and begin to fall in love all over again. Later, while exploring the halls alone, Martin is ambushed by LaPoubelle, whom he kills in self-defense. Debi stumbles upon the scene and flees the reunion in horror. Paul arrives moments later, and helps Martin dispose of LaPoubelle's body in the school furnace.
Debi later confronts Martin in his hotel room; he reveals that when he joined the army, his psyche profile revealed a "moral flexibility" that made him suitable to work as an assassin for the CIA, after which he decided to go freelance. His rationalizations for his work terrifies Debi even further; she rejects his attempts at reconciliation and walks out. Martin fires Oatman over the phone, lays off Marcella (but directs her to a brick of cash hidden in the office, set aside for her severance pay), and finally opens the dossier detailing the contract that brought him to Grosse Pointe. He is amazed to find that the target is Debi's father, Bart, who is scheduled to testify against Martin's client.
Grocer decides to kill Bart himself to impress Martin's client. Martin abandons the contract and rescues Bart, driving him to the Newberry house and holing up inside, narrowly escaping Grocer and his mercenaries. During the siege, Martin finally reveals that he left Debi on prom night to protect her from his homicidal urges, which were due to his abusive upbringing. Martin gradually kills off the mercenaries, and the NSA agents are gunned down by both Grocer and Martin. Martin kills Grocer by smashing a television over his head. Injured and winded, Martin proposes marriage to Debi, who (shell-shocked from the day's events) does not respond. In the end, Debi and Martin leave Grosse Pointe together.John Cusack as Martin Q. Blank
Minnie Driver as Debi Newberry
Alan Arkin as Dr. Oatman
Dan Aykroyd as Grocer
Joan Cusack as Marcella
Jeremy Piven as Paul Spericki
Hank Azaria as Steven Lardner
Barbara Harris as Mary Blank
Mitchell Ryan as Bart Newberry
K. Todd Freeman as Kenneth McCullers
Michael Cudlitz as Bob Destepello
Benny Urquidez as Felix LaPoubelle
Carlos Jacott as Ken
Jenna Elfman as Tanya
Steve Pink as Terry Rostand
Brent Armitage as Cosmo
Ann Cusack as Amy
Belita Moreno as Mrs. Kinetta
K.K. Dodds as Tracy
Screenwriter Tom Jankiewicz wrote the initial script for Grosse Pointe Blank in 1991 after receiving an invitation to his 10th high school reunion. He picked the title while substitute teaching for an English class at Upland High School, writing the title on the classroom's whiteboard to see how it would look on a movie-theater marquee. Jankiewicz decided to use Grosse Pointe, an upscale suburb of Detroit, Michigan, rather than his working-class hometown of Sterling Heights due to the contrast between the two towns.
Jankiewicz simultaneously worked as a substitute teacher and a cashier at a Big Lots in Upland, California, to make ends meet before his script was picked up for production.
Jankiewicz, who was raised in Sterling Heights, Michigan, based many of the film's characters on his real-life friends from Bishop Foley Catholic High School in Madison Heights, Michigan. For example, Jeremy Piven's character, Paul Spericki, was originally named after Jankiewicz's best friend during high school, though the name was changed during filming. It was rumored that the film's script was based on an actual high school student from Jankiewicz's past who became a professional hit man, which is untrue. Joan Cusack's character, Marcella, was named for Jankiewicz's manager at Big Lots.
George Armitage later claimed "I did as much as anyone did in terms of writing" but did not seek credit.
The script, when I met with John [Cusack] and the writers, was 132 pages. I said: “Look, I’m not doing anything over 100 pages.” They said, “Okay,” and they did a re-write, and it came back 150 pages. So I said “Okay, you guys are fired,” and I spent most of pre-production re-writing the screenplay, getting it down to 102 pages. Then we would improvise, and I noticed that some of the stuff I’d cut out was in the improvs, they were bringing back stuff that I’d cut out, but we had a good time with it.
Only the aerial footage of Lakeshore Drive was actually shot in Grosse Pointe. The city of Grosse Pointe Farms did not allow the filmmakers to use any shots of Grosse Pointe South High School for the movie due to the presence of alcohol in the reunion scenes. The majority of the film was shot in Monrovia, California. In a 1997 interview, actor John Cusack, who shares the film's screenwriting credit along with Jankiewicz, Steve Pink, and D.V. DeVincentis, said he would have liked to film on location in Grosse Pointe, but they were unable to move production to Michigan due to budget constraints.
The scene where Martin is attacked by LaPoubelle while exploring the halls of his old high school was filmed at Reseda High School in the San Fernando Valley.
Armitage later recalled:
With Grosse Pointe Blank
I shot three movies simultaneously. We shot the script as written, we shot a mildly understated version, and we shot a completely over-the-top version, which usually was what was used. We cast that movie—and I’ve cast most movies—by having the actors come in and read, then throwing the script out and saying: “Okay, let’s improvise.” That’s what I was comfortable with. I say to the actors: “You are creating the character. This is written, these are the parameters, this is the outline. Now you take this, make it your own, and bring me, bring me, bring me.”... I’m very fond of Grosse Pointe Blank
because of that, the insanity of it was trying to keep things working with three different registers to choose from.
Armitage says he shot several endings:
I’m usually rather rough on studio heads in terms of creative help, but after seeing the audience so angry at Alec [Baldwin] dying in Miami Blues
, I decided that on Grosse Pointe Blank
, this time, dealing with another psychopath, another sociopath, John’s character—I just wanted him to survive. And we shot so many different endings. They were so generous at Disney, we had [Michael] Ovitz and Joe Roth were running the place, they were really great with us. We shot two or three different endings, the two of them getting together, talking about things, and everything didn’t work. And Joe Roth said at one of the screenings: “When the father says ‘You’ve got my blessing’ in the bathtub at the end, after the shoot-out, just cut to the two of them leaving.” I thought, “Let’s give it a shot,” and it worked beautifully.
Grosse Pointe Blank received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a rating of 79%, based on 67 reviews, with an average rating of 7.1/10. Metacritic gave the film a score of 76 out of 100, based on 27 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".
Roger Ebert gave the film 2.5 stars out of 4. He praised the chemistry between the lead actors and enjoyed the dialogue, but considered it a near-miss, wishing for a wittier, more clever ending.
The film earned an estimated $6,870,397 in its opening weekend, ranking #4 at the box office. It went on to earn $28,084,357 in the United States.
The score for Grosse Pointe Blank was composed by Joe Strummer, formerly of The Clash, and the soundtrack includes two songs from The Clash: "Rudie Can't Fail" and their cover version of Willi Williams' "Armagideon Time".
In addition to The Clash, the tracks featured in the film are largely a mix of popular and alternative 1980s punk rock, ska, and new wave from such bands as Violent Femmes, Echo & the Bunnymen, The Specials, The Jam, Siouxsie and the Banshees and A-ha. While most songs played throughout the film (especially at the reunion) had been recorded by the time of the students' graduation in 1986, several songs were recorded later:The Guns N' Roses version of Paul McCartney's "Live and Let Die," heard in the scene where Martin first visits the Ultimart, was released in 1991.
Los Fabulosos Cadillacs' "Matador," heard during the dance scene at the reunion, was released in 1993.
The Specials' version of "Pressure Drop," played by Debi at the radio station during her "'80s weekend," was released in 1996.
Eels' "Your Lucky Day in Hell," heard when Martin and Debi visit the Hippo Club for drinks, was also released in 1996.
The soundtrack album reached #31 on the Billboard 200 chart, prompting the release of a second volume of songs from the film.
This version of "Blister in the Sun" is a new recording that mirrors the original 1983 arrangement. It does not appear in the film.
"Blister 2000" is a newly recorded, drastically rearranged version of "Blister in the Sun," which also does not appear in the film.
- "Blister in the Sun" - Violent Femmes (2:08)
- "Rudie Can't Fail" - The Clash (3:31)
- "Mirror In The Bathroom" - English Beat (3:09)
- "Under Pressure" - David Bowie and Queen (4:03)
- "I Can See Clearly Now" - Johnny Nash (2:46)
- "Live and Let Die" - Guns N' Roses (3:02)
- "We Care a Lot" - Faith No More (4:03)
- "Pressure Drop" - The Specials (4:18)
- "Absolute Beginners" - The Jam (2:50)
- "Armagideon Time" - The Clash (3:53)
- "Matador" - Los Fabulosos Cadillacs (4:34)
- "Let My Love Open the Door (E. Cola Mix)" - Pete Townshend (4:58)
- "Blister 2000" - Violent Femmes (2:58)
"Go!" is the short version, originally issued as the b-side of "Lions."
- "A Message to You, Rudy" - The Specials (2:53)
- "Cities in Dust" - Siouxsie and the Banshees (3:49)
- "The Killing Moon" - Echo & the Bunnymen (5:44)
- "Monkey Gone to Heaven" - Pixies (2:56)
- "Lorca's Novena" - The Pogues (4:35)
- "Go!" - Tones on Tail (2:32)
- "Let it Whip" - Dazz Band (4:24)
- "The Dominatrix Sleeps Tonight" - Dominatrix (3:40)
- "War Cry" - Joe Strummer (5:58)
- "White Lines (Don't Don't Do It)" - Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel (7:24)
- "Take On Me" - A-ha (3:46)
- "You're Wondering Now" - The Specials (2:37)
Several songs that appear in the film are not featured on either of the soundtrack albums:
A muzak version of "Live and Let Die" is heard when Martin first steps into the Ultimart. The artist is unknown.
Adam Ant's "Friend or Foe" appears in the film's trailer but does not appear in the film itself.
- Johannes Brahms' "Fugue in A-Minor" - Jacques van Oortmerseen
- "Ace of Spades" - Motörhead
- "In Between Days" - The Cure
- "Your Lucky Day in Hell" - Eels
- "Sharks Can't Sleep" - Tracy Bonham
- "Little Luxuries" - The Burros
- "Big Boss Man" - Jimmy Reed
- "Detroit City" - Bobby Bare
- "Walk Like an Egyptian" - The Bangles
- "99 Luftballons" - Nena
- "Doors of Your Heart" - The English Beat
The film was publicly released on VHS and DVD in 1998 in the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and France. Australia was the first country to premiere the film on television in 2001.
According to Joan Cusack, the 2008 film War, Inc. is an informal sequel. Both films are similar in style and theme, and both films star John as an assassin and his sister Joan as his assistant, with Dan Aykroyd in a supporting role.