The '80s aren't a time period, they're a state of mind. That may be a big, screaming cliché — hey, the '80s were full of…
Movie on DVD Review

Better Off Dead

John Cusack, Better Off Dead | EXTERNAL USE ONLY John Cusack in Better Off Dead...
Image credit: Everett Collection
EXTERNAL USE ONLY John Cusack in Better Off Dead...

The '80s aren't a time period, they're a state of mind. That may be a big, screaming cliché — hey, the '80s were full of them — but there's something to it, because our perception of the decade has far more to do with signposts like mall hair and parachute pants than with anything that actually happened. The nostalgia-dripping Take Me Home Tonight (2011, R, 1 hr., 37 mins.) tries to tap into that hazily reconstructed, VH1-fueled version of the '80s in which all jerks were named Chad, cocaine led only to hilarious high jinks, and boys and girls just wanted 
 to have fun. But if you're aching to revisit that world, why not go back to the source? Better Off Dead... (1985, PG, 1 hr., 37 mins.), now debuting on Blu-ray, is a wonderfully off-kilter iteration of the typical coming-of-age-and-getting-the-girl movie. Cusack plays Lane Meyer, a sarcastic high schooler who, if he never crashes through the fourth wall like Ferris Bueller would a year later, certainly leans up against it pretty hard with a winking mien and musings to no one in particular. Depressed after getting dumped by his girlfriend for an Aryan-jock ski captain, he eventually falls for the charms of the French exchange student across the street. Aside from this, the ''plot'' mainly consists of a collection of casually surrealistic and instantly memorable recurring gags, like Howard Cosell-impersonating Japanese drag racers and an unrelenting paperboy out on a never-ending quest for his ''two dollars!'' Genuinely funny, surprisingly cohesive, and more quotable than the Bible, Better Off Dead... is definitely a time capsule, but its appeal hasn't gotten old. A–

Originally posted Jul 13, 2011 Published in issue #1164 Order article reprints
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