Mr. Newberry: What have you been doing with your life? Marty: Uh... professional killer. Mr. Newberry: Oh! Good for you, it's a... growth industry.
A 1997 John Cusack comedy about an assassin going home to attend his 10-year high school reunion. Hilarity ensues.Martin Blank is a disaffected hit man. After he ends up botching his most recent job because of the handiwork of Grocer, a rival hit man, he gets an offer from the same rival looking to form a Weird Trade Union of assassins and professional killers, to, in Grocer's words, "prevent embarrassing overlaps." Blank flatly tells him he's not interested, only to be told to reconsider, given that one way or another, Grocer's going to get him. Then there's an invitation to his high-school reunion, which he also refuses, until the company he's on the hook with for the botch tells him he needs to make good by killing someone out that way. Reluctantly, he heads back to Grosse Pointe, followed by a slew of other hitmen from the union looking to change his mind and two overly enthusiastic NSA agents also out to get him. Along the way he comes to grips with his emotional issues and reconnects with Debi Newberry (Minnie Driver), the girl he left behind ten years ago.
Contains examples of:
Affably Evil: Grocer comes off this way. Marty too, to an extent, although he tends to be more "affably amoral."
Badass Adorable: Martin's chipper secretary Marcella (played by Joan Cusack) discusses recipes on one line while hardballing arms dealers on the other.
Black Comedy: Well, the main character is a hitman, and it's about him going home for his 10-year high school reunion. It's kind of obvious.
Bottomless Magazines: Blank is often seen reloading his weapons, but in this scene, the villain is never seen/heard reloading, and fires way more bullets than his guns should theoretically be able to hold.
Burger Fool: The air-headed guy who works at the convenience store which used to be Martin's home and on account of his headphones is completely oblivious to a brutal fight between Martin and an assassin.
Martin is given a pen by a former classmate, which he soon uses to kill an assassin who attacks him.
He doesn't open the dossier on his target for some time, and it turns out to be his girlfriend's father.
Averted: Terry the security guard shows Martin his gun at the dance with the assassin on the way, and it never comes into play.
Cold Sniper: Martin appears this way when first encountered. Later averted, as he reconnects with his humanity and past.
Combat Pragmatist: While in the middle of grappling with another hitman out to kill Martin, he winds up killing his enemy by stabbing him in the neck with a pen. He also ends up killing Grocer with a TV set.
Concealment Equals Cover: Both combatants use the shelves in a convenience store as cover during a heated gun battle. It works.
Cool Teacher: Mrs. K comes across as this, especially since Martin only refers to her by that nickname. She also seems pretty astute; though she doesn't know anything about Martin's life, when he tells her, "I'm going home!" she asks him wryly, "Are you?"
Corporate Samurai: Martin (and by extension Marcella too) combines the personality of a ruthless businessman with that of an assassin and all of the hits he does during the movie involve him being hired by an auto company to kill whistleblowers.
Critical Psychoanalysis Failure: During one of his sessions, Martin revealed out of the blue that he was a career killer, and while his psychiatrist wants nothing to do with him, he keeps showing up.
Deadly Euphemism: Used a good deal by all of the assassin characters (e.g. after botching a hit, Martin complains to his psychiatrist about problems with "concept execution"), and is lampshaded by one of the NSA agents after referring to "waxing" Martin. He complains about the other using weasel words like that, wondering why the other can't simply say "kill".
Detroit: Or rather, its poshest suburb, Grosse Pointe.
Even Evil Has Standards: Martin, to himself, says that he'd kill nearly any of his classmates for the right price. However, earlier in the movie, he flat out refuses a job to blow up a Greenpeace ship on moral grounds, and later gets insulted when it's believed he killed a dog.
Expy: The film War Inc. which also stars both Cusack siblings is a Spiritual Successor to this one, and they play basically the same characters with different names (although more sociopathic in both cases).
Freudian Excuse: Lampshaded, as in one scene, Martin mentions his childhood problems (an alcoholic father and crazy mother) as probably having a role in his career choice. He even comments that while these don't justify his behavior, they explain it.
Grave Marking Scene: After visiting his crazy mother in an asylum, Martin is shown visiting his father's grave and pouring out a bottle of alcohol... then keeps pouring until the bottle is empty... and then drops the empty bottle on the grave. It's clearly not a tribute, and we later learn he was an alcoholic.
Nietzsche Wannabe: Arguably, Martin's justifications make him an example of this type.
No Celebrities Were Harmed: It's never stated outright, but basically, Martin's employer for his hits during the film is an automobile company that wants to prevent its execs from testifying against it. That there are several auto companies in Michigan makes this plot sufficiently ambiguous that it doesn't slander any one company.
Nothing But Hits: Justified, as the film's soundtrack comprises 1980s hits played by one character on a radio station, choosing this playlist in honor of the reunion.
Oblivious Janitor Cut: The Ultimart clerk plays an arcade game while a gunfight rages all around him. He doesn't notice until the protagonist yanks him out of the shop before it explodes.
Paper-Thin Disguise: Felix the Basque assassin claims the name tag of a no-show to gain entry to Martin's reunion.
Felix: It is I... Sidney Feldman!
Arlene: Oh, been overseas? [looks at name badge with yearbook photo] My, you have changed!
Pet the Dog: In a memorable scene, Martin holds a baby and the infant takes to him immediately. More importantly, Martin takes to the baby just as quickly. Or, at least, has a revelation about people, life, etc... This is somewhat subverted, as the positive impression the audience and his love interest receive of him is shaken by the fact he has to stab a guy to death in self-defense with a pen.
Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up: He tries to reestablish his bullying relationship with Martin, who's moved on so far in his life that he can't even be bothered to beat him up. In response, the bully tries to open up to him and read some poetry, with Martin's (admittedly rather hollow and back-handed) praise possibly providing some sort of minor closure/reconciliation for the guy.
Service Sector Stereotypes: There is a ditzy waitress in the diner Martin and Grocer go to; the guy who works at the convenience store (formerly Martin's home) has a Burger Fool personality; two of the assassins Grocer wants for his Weird Trade Union are Filipina maids who are described as "queens of the hotel hit".
The man on a bicycle in one of the assassination set pieces recalls a bit of recurring physical comedy in Cusack's earlier Better off Dead.
In one scene, Martin attempts to assassinate someone by dripping poison down a thread hanging from the ceiling. This method was taken from You Only Live Twice, which itself borrowed the idea from a Japanese ninja movie Shinobi no Mono (Roald Dahl wrote the screenplay to the former and had seen the latter while in Japan).
The failed assassination that gets Martin a lot of ribbing is either a shout-out or a case of Strange Minds Think Alike to a method successfully used in the Jack London story Moon-Face.
The game the gas station clerk is playing is an arcade version of Doo M. Double shout out, as a similar machine appeared on Seinfeld.
"It's either because I'm in love with your daughter or I have a newfound respect for life."
cut to other car
"That punk is either in love with that guy's daughter, or he has a newfound respect for life."
Strawman Political: Both Grocer and Martin. Grocer is a psychotic version of a corrupt labor organizer trying to force someone into joining, although the union he intends to form is one of assassins; Martin expresses some right-wing sounding statements to the effect that being a hired killer is "just business," and is implied to have participated in some of America's less savoury actions during the late Cold War.
Sympathetic P.O.V.: When the protagonist is an assassin, it makes it easier for the NSA agents antagonistic to him to seem like Those Two Bad Guys. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they are dirty agents looking for a scapegoat rather than a real terrorist.
Martin: No, no. Psychopaths kill for no reason. I kill for money. It's a job...That didn't come out right.
There Is No Kill Like Overkill: In the climactic fight, Martin continues firing bullet after bullet at one of Grocer's henchmen even after the guy is obviously dead. Later on, both Martin and Grocer do the same to the two NSA agents.
Those Two Bad Guys: Played with in the conversations between Martin and Grocer; also, the two NSA agents.
Trailers Always Spoil: The trailer reveals that Martin's target is his girlfriend's father. It seems pretty clear that this was intended to be a big reveal in the third act.
Trash the Set: Ultimart gets turned to ash in the middle of the film.
The Villain Knows Where You Live: The assassin protagonist tries to convince his psychiatrist to continue seeing him (the psychiatrist freaked out when his patient revealed his profession). The protagonist mentions doctor-patient confidentiality as a reason why their continued visits wouldn't be a problem and then adds, "And besides, I know where you live". Given the protagonist's admitted profession and the fact that he would know the psychiatrist by name, that's not so hard to believe.
Weird Trade Union: Lampshaded/Parodied as Dan Aykroyd's character is interested in creating a union for assassins. Martin considers this idea stupid, given that people become assassins precisely because they are loners who don't work well with others.
What the Hell, Hero?: Martin's best friend and girlfriend eventually find out he wasn't joking about his job. Neither of them are happy, and let him know it.