Cast: John Cusack (Martin Blank), Minnie Driver (Debi), Dan Aykroyd (Grocer), Jeremy Piven (Paul), Alan Arkin (Dr. Oatman)
Director: George Armitage (The Big Bounce, Miami Blues, nothing else really of consequence)
Plot: Without giving anything away, the film is about a hit man who returns to his home town of Grosse Pointe, MI to attend his ten-year high school reunion.
Why you should watch it: This film, released in 1997, shouldn't be good. It has all the markings of a cheesy, throwback flop. However what carries it to success is the cast, the soundtrack, and the quick delivery of the actors. I think the movie didn't get much dap because it was marketed all wrong. The studio plugged it as a rom-com, but it's much more akin to a dark comedy, and that's due entirely to the acting.
John Cusack is a very steady actor. When he's not doing ridiculous films (2012, 1408, Serendipity, Must Love Dogs, Con Air, etc.), he's doing very very very good films (Being John Malkovich, High Fidelity, The Grifters, etc.). I find him to be at his best when he is more self-deprecating and anxious. He is exactly that in this film. He portrays Martin Blank as a complete neurotic, at a crossroad in his life. He's tired of the life he has, but it's all he's known. Blank is returning home to attend his high school reunion after falling off the grid for 10 years. To change an old adage, in this case the more things change, the more they change. Cusack is supported by Minnie Driver (I always thought that would be a great name for a female midget porn star), Dan Aykroyd, Alan Arkin, and the usually annoying Jeremy Piven. With the exception of Driver, I think the supporting cast is spot-on. I just always had trouble seeing Minnie Driver in the role of the jilted ex. Maybe it's just me.
The writing is quick and punchy, and it's helped by great give-and-take delivery from the cast. Cusack, Tom Jankiewicz, and two others wrote the film and focused on dialogue. The film moves at a quick pace, not stopping for a moment for the audience to reflect. It's as if the delivery allows the viewer to keep pace as though they were involved in the story themselves. There is no breaking of the fourth wall, but the viewer feels included.
The soundtrack is not your stereotypical 80s fare. There's music from The Clash, The Pixies, Echo and the Bunnymen,Violent Femmes, and more. You can tell it was put together with care by Cusack and others. It represents not what the audience listened to per se, but more what he listened to, and his character as well. The music is the kind of peripheral music from the 80s, perhaps cementing Cusack's Blank as an outsider, just a small distance away from the usual popular people, social circles, and trends of the time. I thought these music choices were perfectly suited for the film, and compliment it without dominating it and forcing the viewer into nostalgic reverie.
As I said earlier, the film was marketed all wrong. It's not a romantic comedy. It's a dark satirical comedy with romantic undertones. You can tell by watching the trailer that the studio really tried to push the film in one direction. When it didn't succeed as they wanted in the box office, it found a better life on the rental shelves. Give it a watch. If I'm not mistaken, it's still streaming on Netflix.
As for the gap between movie reviews, I recently moved. The process of emptying and selling one house, moving into another, the process of the sale, the legal matters involved, and all the other ins and outs, left me no time for any writing. Tom Breihan has done some great reviews on the Concourse, and I recommend those. I'm glad to be writing this column again though. I'll try to be a bit more consistent in the future. As always, drop any suggestions, complaints, and "go fuck yourself"s in the comments.