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Better Off Dead

review by Zach B.



Rated: PG

Running Time: 97 minutes

Starring: John Cusack, David Odgen Stiers, Diane Franklin, Kim Darby, Curtis Armstrong, Amanda Wyss

Written and Directed by: Savage Steve Holland


Studio: Paramount

Retail Price: $24.99

Features: None

Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Stereo, English Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scene Selections (33 Scenes)

Released: July 16th, 2002



Lane Myer (John Cusack) is a California high school student with a weird family, a weirder paperboy who stalks him and an obsession with his girlfriend, Beth (Amanda Wyss). Lane is very much in love with Beth, but after six months of dating, she dumps him for Roy (Aaron Dozier), the school's popular ski jock. Depressed, Lane attempts suicide a few times, but due to something getting in the way, his way out of life always fails. But perhaps that's a good thing. As he tries to win Beth back, Lane gets to know Monique (Diane Franklin), the French exchange student staying with his nerdy neighbors. Soon, Lane realizes he may not be better off dead after all...

"Better Off Dead" is a 1980s classic in my book, not to mention many other movie fan's books. I suppose you could classify "Better Off Dead" as a teen movie, as I'm sure many do, but I think it's really much more than that. Yes, with all those teen flicks we relate to something in it... but I don't know, I think a majority of people who like "Better Off Dead" see something more than relating with a depressed-over-love teenager, a weird family, annoying peers and the like. I think what so many like about the film is the wacky, oddball humor. The story may seem ordinary, but believe me, the laughs come from strange but pretty amazing elements.

Savage Steve Holland made his writing and directing debut with "Better Off Dead," and his perspectives on teenage life is blazingly original and truly hilarious. The humor in "Better Off Dead" is rather unique, but at the same time, pretty direct and relatable. A lot of the comedy is actually pretty ironic, and I really dig that kind of stuff. But a lot of it is also weird and off the wall. Some choice moments include Lane's flashbacks, Lane meeting Monique for the first time, students who seem to love their homework, people asking Lane about Beth's availability, and of course, the skiing finale. But what really stands out are those embarassing moments we can relate to: talking to ourselves, not doing our math homework and being called up to explain the problem and all sorts of other stuff.

What I really love about "Better Off Dead" though are the characters; Holland truly has one crazy mind or he either knew some really crazy people. Lane's father is a frustrated, no non-sense kind of guy; Lane's mother's food creations are just plain creepy (as well as her own always cheerful, positive attitude); Lane's brother Badger is introverted to an extent, but sure enjoys his mail order items. Roy the ski jock and Beth are somewhat clichéd perhaps, but others like Kris and the basketball team yeilds funny results. I personally enjoy Curtis Armstrong's role as the guy who's been in high school for nearly eight years, the psychotic paperboy who wants his two dollars and the two Japanese kids (especially the one who talks like Howard Cosell).

Holland, also making his directing debut with the movie, is of course, really into art and there are some short but sweet animated segments coaxed into the movie. Still, there is a very sweet nature to this movie. It's not smutty, but even family friendly. No one says anything terrible and nothing is dirty or gross (well, that could be argued with Lane's mother's food). It's pretty simple why this film scored a PG rating, but I wouldn't call it a family movie. There's just a fine, sensible sweet quality to it that's fun and well paced too.

The film's performers help make this movie come to life. John Cusack broke out of the teen mold barrier with more challanging and adult work in the late 1980s, and his career took off very nicely. Still, I think this is one of his best remembered roles. He captures Lane's sadness, his sense of hope and an eager earnestness to him. David Odgen Stiers is pretty fun, not to mention Diane Franklin as Monique. Other standouts include the lovable Curtis Armstrong, Dan Schneider and an overall solid, supporting cast. Quite simply, there isn't another movie out there like "Better Off Dead" and there probably never will be again. It's solid, perfectly pitched and relatable. It's always nice when someone makes a movie for a certain audience that they can actually relate to who the audience is.


Unfortuantly, "Better Off Dead" doesn't look too hot on this DVD (though it is nice for me to finally see the film in its original widescreen format). While a lot of the film's comedy lies within its story and characters, there are a good deal of visual jokes. Presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, the only real good qualities I can say about the transfer is that it features good detail in the more visualized scenes, decent color saturation and above average fleshtones. Everything else, sadly, looks like crap.

The film is a bit soft, not to mention incredibly grainy. A lot of it looks a bit faded out at times, and there is some shimmering and halo edges to be found throughout. Big marks on the print, nicks, pieces of dirt, scratches, blemishes and a host of other little instances plague the print. Still, the final result is not flattering at all, and comes off pretty average. What a shame.


The English stereo track is more than adaquette. It's nothing impressive, but it suits the film well. There are some nice effects with it - such as the ski finale, car accidents and Lane's suicide attempts, among a variety of other sounds. The music sounds good too and dialogue is pretty clear for the most part. There is some activity going on and does get you into it, but by no means does this live up to a kilter 5.1 remix. Still, it feels pretty natural and nice with the elements that are used, but sometimes it can be a bit cloudy (the flashback when Lane meets Beth and they start talking and then you hear voices inside their head, it sounded really off and weird). Still, it's good enough. Also included are English subtitles and English closed captions.


Naturally, a lovable cult film that fans have been yearning for on the DVD format gets terrible treatment in this department. Boo I say, boo!


"Better Off Dead" is an inventive comedy, and there's no denying the film's giant amount of fans and how entertaining and relatable the movie is. Unfortuantly, Paramount didn't do much with this DVD as it features an average presentation and no extras to speak of. For big fans of the movie, the price is steep but it's always worth owning your choice favorites. Casual fans, however, may want to revisit the movie with a mere rental.