Better Off Dead (1985)

16 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Not even teenage John Cusack’s charismatic presence can save 1985’s “Better Off Dead” from being d.o.a. I hated this movie. It made me cringe even to think about it. This is a movie where a likable young actor—John Cusack—is forced to carry a lamebrained movie with awful writing, bad jokes, and unlikable characters. This is supposed to be a comedy—what’s there to laugh about? The jokes are horribly juvenile and not the least bit funny.

How could John Cusack have picked such a trashy movie? After his performances in hits like “The Sure Thing” and “The Journey of Natty Gann,” there should have been a third winner for John Cusack’s career year (1985). I could just hear John Cusack shouting “My career!” after seeing a screening of this movie.

I hardly remember the whole movie so let me just name some gags I found not funny:

1)     The opening panning shot of John Cusack’s main character Lane Meyer’s bedroom, full of pictures of his girlfriend (Amanda Wyss)…who will soon break up with him. Ho, ho…

2)     The paperboy that has bad aim when he throws his paper. He breaks a window as Lane’s father tries to get to the paper first. Ho, ho…

3)     The running gag in which that same paperboy chases Lane around, demanding “two dollars” to pay the bill for his paper route. At one point, Lane is walking home and being chased by a lot of paperboys shouting “Two dollars!” Lane finds refuge in his home, locking the door. Lane’s dad asks what’s wrong. Lane says “They’re everywhere!” Lane’s dad thinks he means girls. Ho, ho…

4)     The characters of the sleazy neighbors who live across from Lane’s house—they’re boarding an attractive female French exchange student who, as it turns out, can really speak English but is acting like she doesn’t. Therefore, the neighbors (one is an idiotic woman, the other is her overweight son she wants to fix the student up with) treat her with condescension. (“Christmas! Chrissssssstmas!” the woman tries to explain to her on Christmas morning.) Ho, ho…

5)     The endless suicide attempts Lane tries to succeed with that always go wrong…do I even need a “ho, ho…” anymore?

“Better Off Dead” was painful for me to watch. It’s supposed to be a comedy, yet I only laughed once. And that was just a chuckle. It’s where the French girl finally reveals (to Lane, who falls in love with her) that she really can speak English. The rest was dismal and unfunny.

John Cusack is an appealing actor and he can create great performances in movies I like or love. Consider “Better Off Dead” a red mark on his résumé.

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