BETTER OFF DEAD
Review by Michael Jacobson
John Cusack, David Ogden Stiers, Diane Franklin, Kim Darby, Amanda Wyss
Director: Savage Steve Holland
Audio: Dolby Stereo
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Length: 97 Minutes
Release Date: July 16, 2002
WANT MY TWO DOLLARS!!”
think it was Mel Brooks who once defined the difference between tragedy and
comedy as this: “Tragedy is when I
stub my toe. Comedy is when you
fall into an open manhole and die.” Crude,
but inevitably true. Lane Myer
(Cusack) is having one of the worst weeks any teenage kid has ever had to deal
with. Too bad for him…but great
Off Dead, which
was written and directed by Savage Steve Holland in 1985, remains arguably the
teen comedy that most defies categorization.
It boasts the insight of a John Hughes film but not the warmth, it has
all the bite of a picture like Heathers but without the harshness.
It’s a collection of comically nightmarish characters and vignettes
that are exaggerations of all our worst adolescent memories, pasted together
without a wink to let us know it’s okay to laugh.
Yet laugh we must…and do.
Lane’s girlfriend (Wyss) of six months decides to dump him in favor of the
school’s leading jock-jerk, he contemplates suicide. But he doesn’t have much luck…each attempt only brings
him more humiliation and us more laughter.
Teen suicide, of course, isn’t funny, and neither is teen violence, but
the sick minds behind this movie and Heathers proved that dark subjects
can be wickedly humorous in the right hands.
that’s the central storyline, the movie is filled with quirky people and
scenarios, each one independently funny. Lane’s
clueless parents, for example, or his younger brother who plays with some
incredibly dangerous toys. There’s
the pretty French foreign exchange student (Franklin), who becomes an object of
lust for the rotund nerd son of the off-balanced woman she’s staying with.
My two favorites, though, are the Japanese version of Howard Cosell and
the demonic paperboy who consistently shows up asking for his money.
On top of that, Holland uses traditional and clay animation at times to
convey Lane’s emotional state!
as you see, Better Off Dead isn’t a film that fits in nicely with its
other contemporaries from the 80s, and all the better for it.
Its audience may have been smaller, but consistently more loyal in the
decades since. John Cusack would go
on to do bigger and better things, of course, but his long time fans will always
remember him fondly for his wild excursions skiing down a ridiculously lethal
pick, his street racing attempts that always went awry, and running for his life
from maniacal twelve year olds on bicycles.
Not to mention his failed suicide attempts.
Off Dead is
a shamelessly quirky, arguably uneven, but ultimately hysterical entry in the
teen flick genre. Laughing at a
depressed teen’s constant misfortune might be mean…but it sure is fun.
most films from the 80s on DVD, Better Off Dead has some problems.
There is noticeable grain and dinginess with the print right from the
start. Colors, however, come across
well, as tones still look largely natural and well-defined by this transfer.
Images range from fairly sharp to slightly soft, with varying levels of
definition, but overall, the results are still pleasantly watchable…just not
simple stereo mix is serviceable…the picture is mostly driven by dialogue and
some fun 80s music. There’s not a
lot of dynamic range, but it isn’t really needed…the clean digital
presentation is adequate just as it is.