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Angst-ridden teen Lane Myer (John Cusack) is totally obsessed with his gorgeous girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss). Trouble is, Beth dumps him for super-slick ski captain Roy (Aaron Stalin), leaving him totally bummed. But when Lane befriends French exchange student Monique (Diane Franklin), his confidence returns, and he challenges Roy to ski the dreaded K-12 to win back Beth.

Review by Shannon J. Harvey:
That cheesy, all-American, John Hughes style plot doesn't do a lick of justice to this wonderfully wacky high school comedy right out of the 80s, where John Cusack's fear of the K-12 is actually the least of his problems. "We've been seeing an awful lot of each other," Beth tells him matter-of-factly, "and I really think it would be in my best interest if I went out with someone more popular."

Cusack's resulting depression leads him to attempt suicide, with hilarious results. Everyone is asking Lane if they can now take Beth out on a date - including his teachers - and his father is bugging him about dating again, forcing him to hook up with a brace-faced nazi. His mother is cooking green things that literally walk off the plate, and his geeky younger brother is a genius who masters anything he turns his hand to - even women. To top it all off, a black-clad paper boy is chasing him for just "two dollars". Life couldn't get any stranger for Lane - something everyone can relate to from their teenage lives.

This seminal 80s flick is, therefore, form over function, where reality merges with imaginative dream sequences, claymation, and cartoon characters that give Lane advice about life. Suburban high school life is weird, after all, and writer-director "Savage" Steve Holland - who was only 25 at the time - nails all the surreal happenings like he lived it himself.

Curtis Armstrong (aka Booger) gives goofy support as Lane's rather unique best friend who snorts anything he can stick his nose into - be it snow, jello, or nasal spray. And David Ogden Stiers is the picture of suburban fatherhood, even though he too wages a private war with the paper boy. And looking as baby-faced as ever, Cusack gives one of his great off-beat performances as the bedraggled teen. It's an early role that defined him as the crown prince of teen romance movies in the 80s, and landed him roles in One Crazy Summer (which Holland also directed) and Say Anything.

Unfortunately, Better Off Dead comes with no extras features on DVD, which is disappointing given the potential for a retrospective to a teen classic. Nonetheless, this high school farce is off-the-wall stuff, and my collection - for one - wouldn't be complete without it.

Published February 5, 2004

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(US, 1985)

CAST: John Cusack, David Ogden Stiers, Diane Franklin, Curtis Armstrong, Dan Schneider, Kim Darby, Amanda Wyss, Aaron Dozier.

DIRECTOR: Savage Steve Holland

RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes

PRESENTATION: widescreen enhanced 16:9, Dolby Digital: English Surround


DVD RELEASE: February 5, 2004

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