Thursday, April 20, 2017

Better Off Dead

It's been widely reported that John Cusack hates his 1985 film BETTER OFF DEAD.   In fact, he's dismissive of much of his resume, stating a few years back that he's only made "ten good films".  I think there're a few more than that, but would BETTER OFF DEAD be among them?  Cusack was apparently quite angry when he first screened the movie, but honestly, what was he expecting?  Another valid question would be why he would re-team with writer/director Savage Steve Holland for 1986's ONE CRAZY SUMMER (unless he was already committed to it)?  That one was a mildly enjoyable, forgettable comedy/romance but BETTER OFF DEAD is some kind of teen classic, in my opinion.  Not in the league of John Hughes' movies and certainly not SAY ANYTHING, in which Cusack starred a few years later, but a wildly silly, crazy, creative trifle that, for much of its running time is quite original.

Lane Meyer (Cusack) has lost his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss) to the captain of the ski team.  He tortures himself with memories and sad songs on the radio.  He also imagines that every other guy in the world wants to date her -  including one of his teachers and even Barney Rubble from The Flintstones.  Lane has weird parents and a brother who always seems to have something odd going on in his bedroom.  His life is more surreal than that of most teenagers: Asian guys who talk like Howard Cosell over a loudspeaker mounted atop their car in repeated efforts to drag race and taunts by a determined paperboy to collect his two dollars are commonplace.  But are they just musings, flights of fancy, like when he escapes his dreadful fast food gig by imagining the ground meat he works with turns into guitar strumming hamburgers that play Van Halen?

Does it matter? BETTER OFF DEAD is a fairly consistent string of at least smile inducing gags that holds up until the last act, when a plot involving a ski race takes over.  Honestly, Savage Steve, nobody who sticks with this movie will give a tinker's damn about the plot, but I guess it's necessary to have one in an American film.  The collection of off the wall moments is what makes this film memorable.  I don't want to give them all away.  The cast is quite good, with graduates of many other '80s teen films and T.V. shows in support of Cusack, who admittedly doesn't get to show his chops here but does cement his uniquely likeable persona that's been visible ever since.  This movie is not one to be ashamed of, John.  Now, some of your more recent films.......

My favorite bits in BETTER OFF DEAD? Ricky and his mom. The sanitation worker's quip.  The hamburger video.  Also, Lane's brother's special guests in his bedroom and his final exit, the last image we see before the credits.

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