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Better Off Dead

This 1985 John Cusack vehicle stands out as an offbeat cult favorite, thanks primarily to Cusack's indisputable charm — plus the wildly askew writing and direction by Savage Steve Holland (who also directed Cusack the following year in One Crazy Summer). Dumped by his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss) for the captain of the school ski team, Lane Meyer (Cusack) just wants to die, but his repeated suicide attempts fail miserably (though hilariously). Meanwhile, a French foreign exchange student (Diane Franklin) moves across the street; Lane challenges the ski captain to a race down the toughest hill on the slopes; his car is a piece of crap; and he has a lousy job at a local burger joint. What makes all of these mismatched plot points work is the sheer randomness and surreal nature of Better Off Dead — which is why you'll find the many fans of the movie compulsively quoting some its more off-the-wall dialogue at odd moments. Among the film's more memorable, laugh-out-loud set pieces: Lane's mom (Kim Darby) makes a "theme meal" for the French girl, announcing, "In honor of our special guest, I've created dinner mon dieu — including Frahnch fries ... Frahnch dressing ... and Frahnch bread. And to drink ..." (holding up a bottle of Perrier) "Pay-roo!"; an increasingly hostile paperboy stalks Lane, demanding payment: "I want my two dollars!"; a pair of Japanese guys who learned English by watching Howard Cosell keep challenging Lane to a drag race; and Lane hallucinates at work about a claymation hamburger dancing to Van Halen's "Everybody Wants Some." Great actors play supporting roles, including David Ogden Stiers as Lane's dad, Vincent Schiavelli as the delightfully twisted geometry teacher, and Revenge of the Nerds star Curtis Armstrong as Lane's best friend, who coaches him for the big ski race by advising, "Go that way, really fast. If something gets in your way, turn." Better Off Dead is a freaky little gem of a movie, and definitely one of the best teen flicks of the '80s. Paramount's DVD release offers a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) with Dolby 2.0 audio and English subtitles. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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