Better Off Dead 
DVD Comedy
Written by Abbie Bernstein   
Tuesday, 16 July 2002

Better Off Dead

Paramount Home Entertainment
MPAA rating: PG
starring: John Cusack, David Ogden Stiers, Diane Franklin, Kim Darby, Amanda Wyss
release year: 1995
film rating: Three Stars
sound/picture: Three Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

If someone wanted a quintessentially and literally average – not good, not bad, just smack-in-the-middle run-of-the-mill – teen comedy from the mid-‘80s, “Better Off Dead” fills the bill. It’s mildly quirky, amiable, predictable and formulaic while displaying small flashes of wit, charm and humor.

The likable and already visibly gifted John Cusack stars as Lane, a teenager in a small Northern California town whose existence comes unraveled with his girlfriend Beth (Amanda Wyss) dumps him for a popular jock. Lane is so devastated that he makes a number of forlorn (and fairly half-assed) attempts at suicide, giving the movie its title. Lane’s well-meaning but clueless parents are no help. Luckily, Lane has an ever-encouraging best friend (Curtis Armstrong) and a comely French exchange student neighbor (Diane Franklin) – but can they help him when he rashly challenges his evil romantic rival to a skiing competition down the most dangerous slope in the area?

Director/writer Savage Steve Holland livens the proceedings up in places with animation that seems inspired by the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. The Chapter 1 opening titles are promising and Chapter 11 has a pretty funny bit in which Lane envisions himself as a hapless cartoon monster. Chapter 21 has a nifty Claymation hamburger singing and dancing to “Everybody Wants Some.” For uber-fans of “The Powerpuff Girls,” that series’ voice star E.G. Daily (billed here as Elizabeth Daily) turns up onscreen in Chapter 17, singing zestily at a high school dance sequence.

The film print used for the DVD transfer is crisp, clean and well-preserved, though there are no exciting color contrasts. Sound format is stereo, with no center channel. All things considered, the mix is solid and cohesive, though there are no especially noteworthy sound effects.

Holland takes aim at easy targets for the most part – bullying school kings and queens, dazed or overbearing adults and (no points for this last) physically outsized youths, along with menacing younger kids (there’s a nice nightmare spoof in Chapter 19 that finds Lane pursued by a posse of malevolent paperboys). The filmmaker has no particular insights, but Cusack and Armstrong are pleasant company and there’s something rather soothing in the film’s generic but not addled nature. “Better Off Dead” isn’t the best of its breed, but it’s good enough to watch on those days when things are otherwise … well, you know.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
aspect ratio(s):
special features: English Subtitles
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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