Lane Myer (John Cusack) has seen better days. He’s in the midst of trying out for the high school ski team and the love of his life, Beth (Amanda Wyss), is about to dump him for the local ski jock (and Captain of the high school ski team) simply because he can ski the K-12. The K-12 is the local trail that no one can seem to ski without taking their life in their own hands. Lane doesn’t make the team and is devastated when Beth breaks the news to him. Deciding that the only way out is suicide (hence the title of the film), Lane tries, unsuccessfully, to end it all. Essentially, that’s the plot, but there’s more…there’s so much more to the movie than just that! Each character in the film is hilarious and has many of his/her moments. Probably the thing I remember most about this movie is the paperboy, constantly charging after Lane wanting his money (“Two dollars, I want my two dollars”).
A new foreign exchange student (Diane Franklin) has just moved in with Lane’s annoying neighbors. Ricky (Dan Schneider) and his ever annoying mother (Laura Waterbury). She learns that the less she says, the better; but it’s not before long that she starts to see something in Lane that he can’t realize because he’s still obsessed with winning back his former girlfriend. There’s two Chinese brothers who constantly try and drag race Lane, one doesn’t speak English at all and the other can only talk like Howard Cossell (a bit of a dated reference, but who cares). And then there’s, of course, Charles de Mar (Curtis Armstrong) who has managed to turn his same act from “Risky Business” and “Revenge of the Nerds” to a good role here. Charles is a high school loser, going on his seventh year and it appears that his only goal is to try to score some drugs. He snorts everything from Jello to snow off of the K-12 in an attempt to get high. Finally, the challenge is extended to Lane that if he beats Roy (Aaron Dozier), he will become the new Captain of the ski team and will most likely win back Beth because of his new found fame. Naturally he can’t see that Monique, the foreign exchange student, has fallen for him.
Better Off Dead is one of my favorite movies of the 80’s genre. Movies like “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” can certainly compete, but not compare. It has a lot of things teens of now and then can relate to, but with a pretty dark edge. The director, “Savage” Steve Holland went onto direct the “unofficial” sequel entitled “One Crazy Summer” again re-teaming with Cusack for the role there as well. The characters are unforgettable and it’s a slice of nostalgia when I viewed the disc. In what other movie do you have a clay-mation hamburger singing Van Halen? That alone is worth the price of admission! If you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen the film, give it a rental. The disc is featureless (more on that later), but for hard core fans (me) it’s a bullet that you’ll have to bite to add this to your collection.
Video: How does it look?
It’s been a while since I’ve sat down and watched this movie, even on DVD. The 1.78:1 VC-1 HD transfer actually looks pretty darn good. I wasn’t really expecting as much, but the image is actually somewhat vivid throughout. There is a bit of grain throughout the entire movie, but I somewhat expected that. Black levels are on the mark and contrast looks well-balanced. The detail is improved and though not at the “jaw dropping” level, I was more than pleased with the way this looked on Blu-ray.
Audio: How does it sound?
Apart from the above average video is the new DTS HD Master Audio soundtrack. There’s only so much sound we can get out of a stereo mix from the 80’s, but this new uncompressed mix does sound fairly decent. The majority of the film takes place in the front stage with some surround effects chiming in for good measure. Dialogue is a bit on the harsh side, but like the grain on the print it does tend to date the movie a bit. Still, this is better than what I was expecting so good news there.
Supplements: What are the extras?
The original DVD had zero special features and all we find here is the original theatrical trailer. Seeing as how John Cusack wants nothing to do with this movie, I doubt we’ll get a commentary track anytime soon.