Better Off Dead (Blu-ray)
Directed by Savage Steve Holland
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 1080p VC-1 codec
Running Time: 97 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 English, French, Spanish
Subtitles: SDH, French, Spanish
Region: no designation
MSRP: $ 21.99
Release Date: August 2, 2011
Review Date: July 28, 2011
After his girl friend Beth (Amanda Wyss) of six months drops him in favor of the school’s champion skier Roy Stalin (Aaron Dozier), Lane Meyer (John Cusack) goes into a funk that never seems to end. Despite a few futile, half-hearted suicide attempts, Lane realizes the only way to win back his girl is to best his rival at skiing. With the help of best friend Charles De Mar (Curtis Armstrong) and French exchange student Monique Junot (Diane Franklin) who’s an excellent skier, Lane slowly begins to regain some of the confidence he’s lost by his continually failing in everything he has set out to do to impress Beth.
One of the reasons that prevents us from whole-heartedly rooting for Lane to succeed is our negative opinion of Beth from the get-go, ditching a basically decent if perpetually dreamy-eyed teenager like Lane for the champion jerk of the world Roy. With her so wholly unworthy of our protagonist, the audience switches allegiance fairly quickly to Monique even if she’s stupidly tied to the mama’s boy (Daniel Schneider) she’s sharing a home with. Holland (who both wrote and directed) keeps a number of running gags going throughout the film, some of which go into his B and C stories: a paperboy with dead aim on the Meyers' garage windows, Mrs. Meyer (Kim Darby) and her horrible cooking, the geeky little brother (Scooter Stevens) who’s actually an almost superhero popular with the babes and planning his own coup, and a pair of Asian street racers who continually challenge Lane to best them in the most successfully hilarious of the running gags. Holland also stages the best deflation of jerk-jock Roy’s snide putdowns of Lane and Charles ever shown in a film while also filming the various skiing contests with some genuine verve and excitement. There is also a terrifically surprising moment when sketches on a pad jump into animated life and lecture Lane on his poor approach to his problems. Animation goes a little wayward, however, in a later claymation sequence set to the tune “Everybody Wants Some,” which isn’t nearly as clever or effective as it wants to be. In the film’s last quarter hour, Lane gets the expected payback to each of his rivals once the film morphs disappointingly into a standard teen romance.
John Cusack scores points by being less conventionally handsome than most leading men playing teens at the time, and his angst can be both funny and painful to watch (though he ought to be bright enough to see that the girl he’s longing for is no prize). David Ogden Stiers has some funny early moments in the movie, but he fades from memory in later reels. Kim Darby plays the ditzy mother too broadly, and Curtis Armstrong doesn’t make for a convincing teen though his lack of self-pity is a necessary counterpoint to Lane’s depression. Aaron Dozier is perfect as the smug jock, and Diane Franklin as the French exchange student does most of her performance in mime (very well) until late into the movie when she begins speaking English. Yuji Okumoto and Brian Imada as the Orientals taunting Lane are always very funny, and one anticipates their every appearance.
The film has been framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080p using the VC-1 codec. Sharpness is well above average with the transfer, and colors are moderately well saturated. Flesh tones are occasionally pink but usually very realistic. Black levels are only moderately inky. There are no age-related artifacts to mar the pristine image quality. The film has been divided into 33 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is surround sound in name only. Dialogue is solidly recorded and resides in the center channel, but the music and ambient effects are spread almost completely across the front soundstage with only the barest of seepage into the rears. There is some effective bass on occasion giving the subwoofer something to do, but the lack of rear channel activity is a shame with all of the opportunities the film has to offer.
The only bonus feature is a theatrical trailer which runs 1 ½ minutes. It’s in 1080p but is in 4:3 format.
3/5 (not an average)
Better Off Dead squanders much of its freshness and invention with a too-predictable teen angst romantic plot and a haphazard selection of tones that give the film a motley atmosphere from which it never recovers. Fans of the star, however, will enjoy seeing him in this early role years before he struck romantic heartstrings in Say Anything.