For some reason or other, every time I saw Better Off Dead sitting in my netflix queue before it finally arrived in my mail box, I thought it was One Crazy Summer. I guess that’s just the default spot in my mind for “mid-1980s John Cusack movie.” But when I watched this one, I did find that it really didn’t seem to vary all that much from my limited recollection of OCS. I guess that with the writer/director Savage Steve Holland teaming up with Cusack for nerdy-hip teen romance films two years in a row is a good excuse for being confused. Nevertheless, Better Off Dead did prove to be an entertaining, albeit quaint, look at 1980s culture.
The premise of the movie basically involves Cusack’s character, Lane Meyer, being dumped by and subsequently pining over the incredibly shallow Beth. This young woman, and the hot-shot skier she falls for who is “more popular… better looking… and drives a nicer car” than Lane, both seem to represent pretty much all that 80s yuppie-dom stood for. Filling his usual role as heart-sick underdog, Cusack periodically finds himself racing cars with a couple of Asian dudes (one of whom got his butt kicked by the Karate Kid in Okinawa) and contending with a menacing young paperboy intent on collecting the month’s newspaper fees, all while seeking to win Beth back by proving he’s a great skier.
There are some interesting side characters along the way, such as Lane’s goofy sidekick friend and his
precocious genius little brother who reads books like “How to Pick up Trashy Babes” and is hard at work constructing a spaceship in the garage. As is typical of the 1980s romantic teen comedy genre, we quickly see the outcast or misfit young woman on the periphery who will prove to be the Universe’s answer to our protagonist’s libido deep existential loneliness. In Better Off Dead, that young woman is a foreign exchange student from France staying in the home across the street and pretending not to speak English as a way to avoid having to tell her obnoxious host family what she really thinks of them until she’s managed to snag herself a nice American boy whose loving arms she can escape to. Will Lane be able to ski the K2? Will he ever get his awesome car running so he can beat the crazy Asian guys, or at least not have an accident while trying to do so? Will he end up with the right girl? Chances are good if you’ve ever seen a movie before, you can answer all these questions already with very little effort. But what fun would that be?
All in all, this movie seems to be exactly the sort of quirky, offbeat romantic comedy that all too many indie movies I’ve seen lately seem to draw some sort of inspiration from. I thought it was good for a few laughs, but it seems like it’s definitely one of those movies that is best watched with a handful of friends for making fun of. So what say you, PopBunker.net readers, am I in for a surprise when I watch One Crazy Summer, or will I feel like I’ve just watched the same movie a second time?