[box cover]

The Sure Thing: Special Edition

MGM Home Entertainment

Starring John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Anthony Edwards,
and Nicollette Sheridan

Written by Steven L. Bloom and Johnathan Roberts
Directed by Rob Reiner

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Review by Betsy Bozdech                    

"We tried to make a comedy for teenagers and for young adults that wasn't stupid, wasn't dopey — that hopefully had a little bit of wit and intelligence to it."

— Rob Reiner

If Harry had met Sally earlier in their college career — and/or their post-school road trip had turned into a screwball comedy of errors, rather than just an opportunity to discuss the relative sex appeal of a man named Sheldon — their relationship might have looked more like the one between John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga in The Sure Thing.

And, in fact, many of the basic elements of When Harry Met Sally — released in 1989, four years after The Sure Thing — are there, in their fundamental form, in director Rob Reiner's first romantic comedy (only his second feature film, after This is Spinal Tap). There's a creative, talkative, slightly neurotic leading man (Walter "Gib" Gibson, played by John Cusack in his first major role); an uptight, methodical, preppy leading lady (Alison Bradbury, played by Daphne Zuniga); and, of course, the aforementioned road trip.

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In The Sure Thing — as in Frank Capra's classic 1934 screwball romance It Happened One Night — that trip is the centerpiece of the plot. Rejected by control freak Alison after he turns a study session into an impromptu date, dissatisfied East Coast college freshman Gib is persuaded to go to L.A. for Christmas by his best friend, Lance (Anthony Edwards, with a full head of hair and some bitchin' SoCal threads). Lance lures his buddy 3,000 miles across the country with the promise of a "sure thing" — a beautiful blonde (Nicollette Sheridan) who will shack up with the reluctantly celibate Gib for the night, no strings attached. Faster than you can say "one-night stand," Gib is packed and waiting for his ride. Turns out he wasn't the only one who found cheap transportation via the school's ride-share board, though; Alison, bound for L.A. to see her law student boyfriend, is Gib's unexpected back-seat companion in the Car From Hell. (What else would you call an old station wagon driven by a relentlessly chipper, Flanders-like couple — hilariously played by Tim Robbins and Lisa Jane Persky — who insist on singing show tunes?)

After their constant bickering (and Alison's rage-fueled peep show) lands them ditched on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, Gib and Alison reluctantly join forces, hitching their way to the land of sex and sunshine. Battling the elements, sleazy cowboys, and, often, each other, they gradually get closer. The junk-food-eating, freewheeling Gib helps Alison learn to loosen up, and she helps him realize, just by being herself, that there's a lot more to male-female relationships than a notch on the ol' bedpost. By the time they finally get to L.A., neither is quite as excited about what's waiting there: Gib's pretty-but-vapid "sure thing" pales in comparison to the spunky, opinionated Alison, and Alison's bland boyfriend Jason (Boyd Gaines) doesn't hold a candle to Gib's spontaneous charm.

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As with the majority of romantic comedies, it's not exactly hard to guess how things are going to end up. But because Cusack and Zuniga are such appealing actors, and because Reiner and screenwriters Steven Bloom and Jonathan Roberts put interesting obstacles in their road (no pun intended) to happiness, The Sure Thing is never boring or rote. Cusack, in particular, gives the movie the extra something that's kept it a perennial favorite. He's best at playing earnest, off-beat guys who use wittiness to mask their intense vulnerability, and his ability to alternate glimpses of that grave inner seriousness with motor-mouthed silliness is something he's brought to all of his best characters (including his two other classic '80s roles, Say Anything's Lloyd Dobler and Better Off Dead's Lane Myer). It's a combination few women can resist, which is why he's always done well with romantic comedies — and why Gib is bound to win Alison over in the end.

And while The Sure Thing is fun as an '80s time capsule — full of retro-fabulous fashions (blazers with pushed-up sleeves and flipped-up collars, pegged cargo pants, short shorts on guys), hair-dos, and music (Rod Stewart and Huey Lewis and the News!) — it's also one of the few '80s "teen" comedies not made by John Hughes that manages to rise above its pop culture trappings to offer characters and situations that are still funny and relatable a couple of decades down the line. College students aren't that different now than they were in 1984, and lord knows the highs and lows of falling in love for the first time are certainly as scary and hilarious. It's in presenting those highs and lows so sympathetically and convincingly that Reiner and his cast make The Sure Thing live up to the promise of its title.

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MGM's two-sided special edition DVD offers lots of retrospective fun for fans, as well as a nice presentation of the film. Side A includes both anamorphic (1.85:1) and full-screen transfers, both of which are clear and sharp. The English Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is strong; other options include English and French mono tracks and English, French, and Spanish subtitles. Side A also boasts Reiner's commentary track — like the others he's recorded, it's generally chatty and anecdotal, with some lapses into silence. He's quick to praise his cast, particularly Cusack, whom Reiner says had to be legally emancipated in order to work on the movie, since he was only 17 when filming began. A second track offers pop-up facts about the film and its production.

Flip the disc over for the rest of the special features, including four new featurettes. The meatiest is the first, "The Road to The Sure Thing," a 26-minute look back at the film that offers interviews with Reiner, Cusack, Zuniga, Sheridan, and several crew members (notably absent is Edwards, who doesn't seem to have been involved with the DVD in any way). Also here are featurettes on costuming (9 min.), casting (7 min.), and a bit called "Reading The Sure Thing," in which screenwriter Steven Bloom reads aloud the original treatment he wrote during film school (5 min.). The only major missing element is a big one — there's no "Alison" character — but it's interesting to hear how much of the rest of the story made it through intact to the finished film.

A handful of trailers (mostly for other MGM DVDs) rounds out the official list of extras; but if you poke around a bit on the main Side B menu, you shouldn't have trouble finding the disc's "hidden" features — three brief interview clips with Sheridan, plus footage from her audition tape. Keep-case.

— Betsy Bozdech

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