Movie News & Reviews

Big Awful Friday: 'Better Off Dead' typical '80s movie holds up

As a new generation reaches the point where it can afford wonderful perks of adulthood like home and auto loans, the '80s of its childhood has become a safe haven of nostalgia and punchlines so lazy they'll eat whatever fell on the couch earlier today even though the fridge is right over there.

And in accordance with Proposition 18, if you get too far behind the times, they'll liquefy your body and feed it to teenagers with weird haircuts. So let's talk about 1985's Better Off Dead. You can thank me for saving your lives later.

High schooler John Cusack is so obsessed with girlfriend Amanda Wys she takes her picture into the shower with him, and not for those reasons. When she dumps him for ski stud Aaron Dozier, Cusack decides to kill himself -- until he meets French exchange student Diane Franklin.

Better Off Dead is two things: first, a typical '80s comedy where a dude gets dumped by a girl only to replace her with a newer, better girl, which is a stunningly accurate depiction of life. Second, it's a joke-delivery machine with more gags than a Coney Island hot dog eating contest.

Cusack's mom makes dinners so vile they crawl right off his plate. His drug-obsessed friend Curtis Armstrong will snort literal snow. If a speeding car is about to plow through an intersection, you can be certain that crosswalk will be packed with nuns.

Even the suicide attempts, everyone's favorite light, escapist subject, are throwaway jokes. You could fit Better Off Dead's entire plot in your pocket and still have room for your keys, phone, and pacifier (what are you still doing with that thing?), but it doesn't really matter.

Writer/director Savage Steve Holland is here to chew bubblegum and goof around. And he's all out of bubblegum.

Like a properly crafted algebra textbook, this has its positives and its negatives. It's a very funny movie filled with quirky daydreams and ridiculous exaggeration. But if you go into it wanting to see someone pull off a comedy about a kid who keeps trying to kill himself, set sail for disappointment; that's just one bit among hundreds. Also steer clear if you're looking for a plot that isn't built on a mound of cliches.

But for a silly piece of '80s fluff, Better Off Dead has aged well. I mean, the cast's hair doesn't even look that ridiculous.

If Holland can pull that off, imagine what he can do with the rest of the movie.

* Contact Ed Robertson at