Better Off Dead (1985)

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A high schooler finds himself in a series of misadventures after being dumped in this hilarious 80s comedy from Savage Steve Holland.

Lane Myer thinks he has it all with his girlfriend Beth Truss. However, in the span of a few hours, he not only loses the chance to live his dream to become a member of the high school ski team, but Beth dumps him for ski team captain Roy Stalin. In addition, he finds himself constantly challenged by the Ree Brothers to a race. Dismayed by what has happened, Lane decides at first to try to end it all. However, he decides the only way to win Beth’s heart is to challenge Roy to the K-12.

During his constant misadventures and misery, Lane does eventually find solace in French foreign exchange student Monique Junet. Monique is staying with fellow high schooler Ricky Smith, who has a liking for Monique with the full support of his domineering mother. However, as Lane and Monique bond, the two soon grow closer and Lane, determined to upstage his arch-rival Roy, now finds himself at a crossroads. Will he attempt to win back the woman he pined for or will he find love with Monique?

Savage Steve Holland is one of those filmmakers whose style of humor one has to get used to. This marked his first film as a director and he brings up some offbeat humor, running gags that work, and a story of one man’s failed relationship and his attempt at redemption on all levels. In addition, Holland brings some fun animated sequences and stop-motion to enhance some of the comic flair that makes this an underrated 80’s classic.

This is the first lead role for John Cusack, who is perfectly cast as the heartbroken and suicidal Lane Myer. The opening of the film, after the animated title sequence, just shows how much Lane pines for his girlfriend Beth. You go from countless photos to even having his closet hangers with Beth’s picture on them. It does seem like an obsession and it is after Beth dumps him for the arrogant Roy Stalin, played by Aaron Dozier, that Lane finds himself at constant crossroads.

That’s where Diane Franklin’s Monique comes in. Franklin, who made waves with her performances in Amityville II: The Possession and The Last American Virgin, is terrific in the role, complete with dead-on French accent. Her chemistry with Cusack is exactly what you would expect as the two go from meeting for the first time to you guessed it, having locked eyes for each other. In a hilarious scene, Monique, grown tired of her host Mrs. Smith’s attempts to hook her up with son Ricky, gets all mad and reveals she speaks English to Lane. She feels like Lane is the only person she can now trust and Lane somewhat reciprocates those feelings as he has an overbearing father who is always on his case and a mother who is too happy go lucky and makes the strangest meals for the family.

As with Holland’s later films, there are running gags that just fit extremely well with the deadpan humor. They include Curtis Armstrong’s Charles De Mar snorting anything imaginable because there are no real drugs, two Asian brothers who challenge Lane with one, played by Karate Kid Part II bad guy Yuji Okumoto sounding like legendary sports commentator Howard Cosell, and the piece de resistance, Demian Slade’s Johnny, the local paperboy who is constantly hounding Lane for the subscription price of two dollars.

Better Off Dead is a funny 80’s classic, one that marked the debut of Savage Steve Holland with John Cusack and Diane Franklin having perfect chemistry together. Plus the running gags are a hoot!

WFG RATING: A

Warner Bros. presents an A&M Films/CBS Films production. Director: Savage Steve Holland. Producer: Michael Jaffe. Writer: Savage Steve Holland. Cinematography: Isidore Mankofsky. Editing: Alan Balsam.

Cast: John Cusack, Diane Franklin, David Ogden Stiers, Kim Darby, Curtis Armstrong, Amanda Wyss, Dan Schneider, Laura Waterbury, Aaron Dozier, Scooter Stevens, Yuji Okumoto, Brian Imada, Chuck Mitchell.

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