Written by Kirk BairdHow to make a non-cloying, witty, and original romantic comedy that appeals to both sexes. If it was easy, we wouldn’t have a world of The Hottie and the Nottie. But John Cusack managed to pull it off in not one but two R-rated comedies: 1997’s Grosse Pointe Blank and 2000’s High Fidelity, both of which recently made their Blu-ray debut.
In Grosse Pointe Blank, Cusack plays professional killer Martin Blank, who is obsessed with former high school girlfriend Debi, and finally has the chance to reconnect with her at his 10-year high school reunion. In High Fidelity he plays Rob Gordon, the owner of a Chicago record store, whose obsession with music is equaled only by his inability to get over his ex-girlfriend, Laura.
Seeing a theme here? As different as the films are in narrative plot and in the central character’s occupation, Martin and Rob are very similar with their girl troubles and their fixation to mend that relationship. That’s a universal theme that connects us to Martin and Rob and allows us to bond with them in an otherwise alien environment. And few play the relatable outsider as well as Cusack, whose impeccable comic timing is less about delivering jokes than informing us of the character through smartly written dialogue. How Martin and Rob work to overcome their neuroses and other issues to win back their girl is charming and funny and inventive — in the best sense of an indie comedy masquerading as mainstream romantic.
Both films are also highlighted by stellar supporting casts. In Grosse Pointe Blank, Minnie Driver became a familiar face as Debi, who still harbors resentment after he disappeared for a decade the night of their prom, and Dan Aykroyd is hilarious as a rival assassin who wants to form a union for professional killers. Cusack and Aykroyd play off each other brilliantly in dialogue and the inability for their characters to trust each other — even at a diner.
High Fidelity features Catherine Zeta-Jones as one of Martin’s former flames, Lisa Bonet as a beautiful singer he falls for, and a wickedly effective cameo by Tim Robbins as the new boyfriend of Laura (Iben Hjejle). But the film is comically hijacked by Jack Black and Todd Louiso as a pair of hipster music snobs who work at Rob’s record store and look down on all the customers and even each other. Other than Cusack’s obsession with top 5 lists, it’s Black’s manic performance you’ll likely remember best about the film.
Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity look great in Blu-ray. While no extras save the trailer on the former, the latter does include on-set interviews with Cusack and director Stephen Frears (Dangerous Liaisons, The Queen) as well as 14 minutes of deleted scenes. Both films are highly recommended and play well in a back-to-back mini Cusack marathon.