John Cusack is defined by his roles as a teenager. Even something like High Fidelity trades on our knowledge of his early roles, they are the roles that – unless he does something radical – will be his legacy. And there are two which stand out above the others: Say Anything and Better Off Dead. Dead is the goofier of the two, and still works because it’s not so much married to the time in which it came out, but is about the struggles of young love, and the dramatic nature teens take to a big breakup. In that way the film embodies some of the nature of Romeo and Juliet – but this Romeo is the only one who wants to kill himself. Our review of the Blu-ray of Better Off Dead follows after the jump.
Lane Meyer (Cusack) is desperately in love with Beth (Amanda Wyss), but he’s clingy and she’s more into the hot guy who’s king of the ski team, Roy Stalin (Aaron Dozier). Lane tries out for the team, but Roy cheats and keeps him off. From there, Beth breaks it off, and Lane is heartbroken, so he goes about attempting suicide, albeit without any success. At school he thinks about trying to hook up with someone else, but he proves unsuccessful in at least one attempt. His solution to winning Beth back is to go down a treacherous ski path, which has wounded lesser men. His neighbor Ricky (Dan Schneider) has a foreign exchange student staying with him – Monique (Dianne Franklin) – which his mom thinks will encourage Ricky to date, but neither really want much to do with each other, and Monique has her eyes on Lane.
But what makes the film is the supporting cast, and weird asides. There’s the two Asian race car drivers (Brian Imada and Yuji Okumoto) who race Lane every chance they get, there’s the job at the hamburger stand where Lane dreams a Van Halen music video, and there’s his best friend Charles le Mar (Curtis Armstrong) who is on the look out for anything that will get him high. And then there’s Lane’s family, with his parents (Kim Darby, David Odgen Stiers) goofballs, and Lane’s brother Badger (Scooter Stevens) who makes a rocket, and gets a book on how to meet cheap women.
This is all Savage Steve Holland’s vision, and though the film is rough and choppy at points, it’s a complete world that he creates, and owes little to the world of John Hughes. Holland has a cartoonist’s perspective, and so in that way he recalls (albeit not as successfully) a filmmaker like Frank Tashlin. But though the world is a little outlandish, the heightened emotions play real. And the romantic elements never overwhelm the fun of the narrative – this is the sort of film that’s meant for young boys who may not be ready for real love. But it still plays, and is still funny, though nostalgia may have something to do with that.
Paramount has released the film through CBS Films. The film is presented in widescreen (1.78:1) and in DTS-HD 5.1 surround, with an additional 2.0 DTS-HD stereo track that seems to be the original audio. Extras are a trailer. That’s it.