“Better Off Dead” is the kind of movie that people won’t really fess up to liking, but I’ve rarely met anyone who didn’t secretly love it passionately. Made by the courageously named Savage Steve Holland, it is on its face a typical teen comedy albeit one with tons and tons of silliness stirred in. I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it was a huge influence on the go for anything Farrelly brothers.
John Cusack is Lane Meyer, a seemingly happy teen, whose will to live rapidly disappears when his prize girlfriend Beth leaves him for the aptly named Captain of the ski team, Roy Stalin. The rest of his life has little to offer. Dad is the hopelessly unhip Major Charles Emerson Winchester from M.A.S.H., Mom is the worst cook in the history of the planet, little brother is partying with trashy women and building a space shuttle in his bedroom, his lone remaining friend is Booger from Revenge of the Nerds, and he owes the relentless psycho paperboy two dollars. Because he can’t seem to fix the beautiful Camero that lays dormant on his front lawn, Lane is forced to drive around in a beat up, constantly rattling station wagon, which makes it impossible to successfully save face around the two omnipresent Asian drag racers, who have seemingly been weaned in American customs by a continuous diet of Howard Cosell and The Wide World of Sports. Even Barney Rubble mockingly asks permission to date his old girlfriend.
Monique (Diane Franklin), a beautiful French exchange student, has problems of her own. Her dreams of seeing Dodger Stadium and enjoying her American Summer are constantly thwarted by her host family, the huge groping Ricky Smith and his equally overweight mother, who came to town straight out of an early John Waters movie. Things are so dire she decides to hide her ability to speak the English. With a little luck, the two may meet and be able to brighten up each other’s lives.
Holland observes no speed limits, as every frame is filled with endlessly absurd and in your face sight gags. There are even wonderful claymation hamburgers dancing gleefully to Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some”. Apparently the film makers deemed absolutely nothing too silly to toss into the stew. This isn’t high culture, but I’ll forever be in love with Franklin. The movie ends with a deliriously silly ski race, and you have to smile when Cusack ends up happily surviving, pride intact. The Savage-Cusack follow-up “One Crazy Summer” didn’t really work, but this is a wonderfully stupid and inventive movie.