Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Grosse Pointe Blank: 15th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson
Celebrate the 15th anniversary of a killer comedy hit — now available on Blu-ray for the first time with a sensational new digital restoration. John Cusack (Hot Tub Time Machine) and Academy Award nominees Minnie Driver (Best Supporting Actress, 1997, Good Will Hunting) and Dan Aykroyd (Best Supporting Actor, 1989, Driving Miss Daisy) are hilarious in this surefire knockout, loaded with action and laughs. Martin Blank is a hit man stuck in a career rut when his 10-year high school reunion gives him the chance to rekindle an old flame and pull off one final job. Things are looking up until his arch rival joins the party, aiming to blow the competition away. 

Film (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

If you are a fan of dark comedies like me, then you will love this tale of a depressed hitman named Martin Blank (John Cusack) who is unhappy with the direction his life has taken.  Martin is also haunted by the fact that he left behind the woman he loved in Grosse Pointe, Michigan when he stood her up at their prom.  As if that wasn’t enough for him to deal with, Martin also has a rival hitman to deal with as well along with all of the usual reservations and qualms that come with a high school reunion as well.
The film opens with Martin waiting to for the right moment to complete his latest contract. While waiting, he chats with his secretary/contract scheduler Marcella (Joan Cusack), until he sees a gunman on a motorcycle on course to kill a group of people in front of a hotel.  Martin uses a sniper rifle to kill the gunman but doesn’t realize that his rival, a man named Grocer (Dan Aykroyd) is disguised as a doorman of the hotel until Grocer kills the group of men himself.  With both hitmen leaving the scene of the crime, they later chat about the botched job and Grocer tries to talk Martin into embracing his vision of a unionized hitman venture.  Grocer argues that if they all join together they can control prices, be more professional, and prevent disasters like what just happened when two hitmen end up crossing each other.  None of that appeals to Martin who prefers to be a solo agent and Grocer warns him that he better get in line soon.
The fallout from the failed mission happens quickly as his secretary tells him that his employers are demanding that he take another contract to make up for his earlier failure.  The location of the target is in Grosse Pointe, Michigan, which his secretary believes is fortuitous since that’s where his high school reunion is about to happen too.  Martin doesn’t want to go to the reunion or do the contract, but he is talked into it by Marcella and his therapist, Dr. Oatman (the wonderful Alan Arkin who only sees Martin out of fear).  Oatman tells Martin to go to the reunion and reconnect with Debi (Minnie Driver) since his obsession about her needs to be resolved.  Dr. Oatman also wants Martin to travel to Michigan so he will get a break from having to deal with him thanks to Martin’s tendency to subtly threaten the doctor whenever he voices a complaint which is hilarious.
When Martin finally returns to his hometown, his depression even deepens when he sees how much has changed during his absence.  His childhood home has been demolished so that a convenience store could be built on the same spot, his mother has lost contact with reality, and his is reminded of all the feelings he tried to escape.  He visits his alcoholic father’s grave and goes to see his demented mother in the facility that cares for her.  Martin also listens to the local radio station where Debi is now a DJ.  He eventually goes to see her too but that doesn’t go as well as he had hoped either since she still is upset about being abandoned years ago on prom night.  Everyone seems to have moved on in one way or another except for Martin.  Even his fellow delinquent childhood friends like Paul (Jeremy Piven) have moved onto successful jobs which makes him wonder why he can’t move on himself.  It doesn’t help that whenever he is asked what his current profession is, his honest response of “professional killer” is laughed at by everyone because they think it’s a joke.
There’s two guys that are willing to kick Martin while he’s down with one of them being Grocer who is even more pissed off at Martin because Martin’s replacement job took away the contract he was originally supposed to fulfill. The second man is Felix LaPoubelle (Benny Urquidez), a former Basque terrorist who wants revenge against Martin for a past job.  Martin also has two National Security Agency agents who are following his every move after being tipped off by Grocer of the upcoming hit that Martin is contracted to do.  What he doesn’t realize is that the target he is supposed to kill is Debi’s father who is about to testify against his employer.  As his past catches up to him in every way possible at his reunion, Martin keeps trying to reconnect with Debi while other people try to kill him.
I love black comedies like this one because it appeals to my sense of humor and also because there really aren’t too many of them made anymore.  Not only are they rarely made, but they are also rarely good since it’s hard to keep to balance the humor so that it doesn’t go too far overboard into unlikability.  It really helps when you have performers like John Cusack, Dan Aykroyd, and Alan Arkin in the mix as they not only get this kind of humor, but they are also master practitioners of it.  My favorite scene in this movie is the one with Arkin and Cusack during their therapy session.  Both are so good in it as they balance the humor with the underlying danger that Martin represents with the unease of the doctor.  I think Arkin should have won a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this even though his role is limited in it.  The rest of the cast are all great too and it was fun spotting well known actors in smaller roles in this before their careers took off.  While I think the ending felt a little too rushed and not as well executed as the rest of the movie, Grosse Pointe Blank is still a great movie and it contains my favorite John Cusack performance.

Video (3 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer is something of a letdown as Disney usually offers high quality transfers for their movies. It looks like they used a dated master which was their first mistake and then tried to improve upon it which resulted in a lot of edge enhancement, halos, out of whack contrast, and other digital defects.  Flesh tones are also inconsistent as they veer from natural to an pinkish hue, but black levels fare better with a nice dark inkiness that was missing on the earlier DVD release.  Detail is also much improved, especially in close-ups, but overall this transfer should have looked a lot better than this.

Audio (4 out of 5 stars) 

Grosse Pointe Blank’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is thankfully a lot better than the video quality.  This is an active mix that uses every channel well and one that is far superior to the mix that accompanied the earlier DVD release. The front channels offer clear and clean dialogue for the most part, but it was a tad lower in volume than the rest of the mix than I would have preferred.  The rear channels and the LFE channel deliver the action and the super 80s mix of music well.  Since The Clash’s Joe Strummer provided the film’s score and music, there’s an abundance of punk and new wave music that’s not only represented well in this mix, but was so successful on it’s own that it spawned two soundtracks for the film.   The sound effects are well prioritized in the mix and their directionality between the channels is very accurate.  While the video quality may not be a huge advancement over the DVD, this audio mix is and it helps balance out this disc’s misfires in the video and extras categories.

Extras (1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This is another “Anniversary Edition” from Disney that doesn’t offer anything special at all despite the the implication that it will.  I really wish Disney would either stop marketing their movies that way or (even better), they would start adding the quality and the extras that fans expect to get for an Anniversary Edition instead of just a trailer like this one has.  It’s a shame that the lack of extras will bring down the final score for this great movie.

Summary (3 out of 5 stars) 

This is a fantastic black comedy that’s perfectly cast for every role in a very original movie.  It’s a shame that Disney didn’t put the appropriate effort behind this Blu-ray release to justify it’s “15th Anniversary Edition” marketing tease as the video quality should have been a lot better and the extras are non-existent.  Maybe the 20th Anniversary Edition will be equal to the merits of this movie.  Despite my complaints about this release, it’s still a great movie and better than the previous DVD release so I’m still recommending it to fans and those people that haven’t seen it yet.
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