Paramount // 1985 // 97 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Chief Justice Mike Jackson (Retired) // July 29th, 2002
"I'm really sorry your mom blew up, Ricky."
For anyone who can safely answer "yes" to that ubiquitous Rhino Records infomercial question -- "Remember the '80s?" -- there's a handful of movies that defined teen films for the decade. The Breakfast Club. Fast Times At Ridgemont High. Ferris Bueller's Day Off. Better Off Dead. Like the other movies on that short list, Better Off Dead combines teen angst, romance, and comedy while never presuming that its audience is full of dolts and idiots. It is no wonder that these films, while prompting us to giggle at the unsightly fashions and silly poofy hair, remain entertaining and meaningful twenty years later, long after we've left the stage in our lives when we were the target audience. Makes you wonder if the oeuvre of Freddie Prinze Jr. will hold up as well. I doubt it.
Besides its status as a classic teen comedy, you also have to look to Better Off Dead as the milestone in John Cusack's career when he became the benchmark for offbeat, iconoclastic romantic leads, a crown he still wears to this day. As Lane Myer, the high school sad sack pining for the girlfriend he lost to the rival captain of the school ski team, he gives you hope that guys like him can score with good-looking girls by being nothing more than his offbeat, self-effacing, yet still charming self. His appeal, both here and in movies like Say Anything and High Fidelity, is cross-gender. Guys think he's cool because they think they can relate to him, while women are turned on by his willing-to-please attitude and non-threatening good looks (or at least that's what my wife says). You have to wonder why it wasn't also the catalyst for a bang-up career for its writer/director, "Savage" Steve Holland. For all the charm Cusack brings, Holland's light directorial touch and script that reminds me of Monty Python with its non sequiturs and lapses into animation really make the movie stand out from its '80s peers. He followed up Better Off Dead with One Crazy Summer, which also starred Cusack and the funny Curtis Armstrong ("This is pure snow! Do you have any idea what the street value of this mountain is?"). After that, his career devolved into television work, such as the execrable UPN series Shasta McNasty. Makes you wonder what happens to people.
Better Off Dead comes to DVD in grand, fully loaded fashion, if by grand and fully loaded you mean overpriced and with no attention paid to it whatsoever. And by whatsoever, I do mean whatsoever. Video is 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, which is the one positive point because this marks the first time Better Off Dead is available in its theatrical aspect ratio in a home video format. However, it very much resembles a 1980s film -- soft, with occasional source artifacts and muted colors. I didn't note any pixelation or edge enhancement, so it has that going for it, which is nice. Audio is unimpressive stereo, sounding a bit muffled and hollow. Oh, and there's no extras, unless by extras you mean an ugly, static menu and chapter stops.
Classic movie, crappy DVD. I'd wait for it to go down in price or to find it used, then snatch it up like you're snorting Jell-O.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 97 Minutes
Release Year: 1985
MPAA Rating: Rated PG