Twenty years since John Cusack’s hitman Martin Q Blank looked for redemption at a school reunion, Ashley Davies revisits the film to find out if it’s still bang on target.
What and why: It’s a nostalgic hitman romcom! Assassin Martin Q Blank (John Cusack, my future ex-husband) is bored of being paid truckloads to make people dead and goes back to his home town for what he hopes will be one last job.
It’s his first time there since standing up Debi Newberry (the scrumptious Minnie Driver) on prom night, when he disappeared, joining the army to sate his murderous appetites.
It’s 1997, and his visit coincides with a school reunion, which gives Debi, now the local DJ, an opportunity to play some excellent 80s indie music. She’s still understandably angry about him having done a runner, but is curious about his reasons, and these two still clearly fancy the rumps off each other.
But Martin and the other reunion guests aren’t the only visitors to Grosse Pointe. His main business rival, the Grocer (Dan Aykroyd), is aiming to set up a hitman cartel, and is trying to whack Martin’s target before he does. A differently evil and evil-faced assassin is after our hero, and a couple of FBI agents are also on his trail.
“A lot of the hitman politics are a bit confusing, but one could put that down to the fact that when I imagine John Cusack’s looking at me the way he looks at Minnie Driver, everything goes a bit melty and I can’t concentrate.”
Martin is so caught up with his sizzlings for Debi, his existential crisis and his shock at discovering that his old house is now a shop that he fails to read the briefing notes about his hit – and therein lies an additional challenge.
Rated or dated: Oh heavens, it’s SO rated. Sexy chemistry, ace music and cheesy nostalgia. Plus lots of shooting, if that’s your bag. There are some great performances from people such as Joan Cusack, who plays Martin’s hard-as-nails secretary (I wish there were more vehicles for her – she’s so often the best performer in everything she does), and Alan Arkin, as Martin’s therapist, who’s kind of afraid of him.
There are some brilliant scenes at the reunion, when Martin tells people he’s an assassin but they all assume he’s joking; it’s an entertaining illustration of those situations in which everyone wants to talk about themselves without listening properly to others. And reunions are juicy devices for making characters examine their identities and achievements versus their youthful ambitions (see also Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, which came out on the same year).
A lot of the hitman politics are a bit confusing, but one could put that down to the fact that when I imagine John Cusack’s looking at me the way he looks at Minnie Driver, everything goes a bit melty and I can’t concentrate.
The gargantuan levels of chemistry between the two leads (despite Martin being a total psychopath), coupled with a soundtrack that includes Violent Femmes, the Pixies, The Clash, Dave Bowie and the Specials, make this a special film, one that’s easy to watch again and again.
There’s also something rather woozily indulgent about feeling nostalgic for a film about nostalgia, rewatching it on its 20-year anniversary. RATED.
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Ashley Davies is an Edinburgh-based writer and editor and the human behind animal satire website thelabreport.co.uk.