Better Off Dead / Dustin Rowles
Hangover Theater | March 7, 2008 | Comments ()
Our newest feature in the stable of Pajiba columns is the “Hangover Theater” series, which you might consider an appropriate companion to the Boozehound’s weekly column. In it, we’ll examine the Saturday/Sunday afternoon and evening cable schedule, and periodically, we’ll offer up the weekend’s best hangover remedy: A cable comfort that you can watch from your couch, arm dangling off, drool leaking onto cushion, and head pounding like a Mickey Rourke fuck against a stone staircase.
I’ve chosen to begin the series with, inarguably, one of the best hangover remedies in cinematic history: Better Off Dead a 1985 classic airing at 1:30 p.m., Sunday on ABC Family, perfect timing for an afternoon lay-about after a hard Saturday night in which: You lost your left contact; your right contact stuck to your eyeball; you puked on your kitchen floor while munching on the only goddamn thing you had left in your pantry, Snackwells; and you fell asleep with your jeans and undies bunched up around your ankles, which you didn’t realize until earlier that morning when you tripped over yourself while you were ambling toward the refrigerator to down some Gatorade and ibuprofen.
Better Off Dead was the superior of writer/director Savage Steve Holland’s duology (the other being One Crazy Summer), both of which featured Curtis “Booger” Armstrong and John Cusack, in two of his first starring roles (BOD was also released the same year as a lesser cable comfort, The Sure Thing). Cusack starred as Lane (Oscar) Mayer (*oink oink*), a high-school senior who had just been dumped by his girlfriend of six months, Beth (Amanda Wyss), with whom Lane’s obsessions ran deep enough to drive him to several suicide attempts (each hilariously foiled). Beth dumped him for Roy Stalin (Aaron Dozier, the poor man’s Ted McGinley), captain of the ski team and Guy Most Likely To Get His Comeuppance. In turn, and on the advice of Armstrong’s Charles De Mar (“I’ve been going to this high school for seven and a half years. I’m no dummy”), his snow-and-nasal spray snorting best friend, Lane decides that the only way to get Beth back is to ski the K-12 because, as De Mar suggests, “You ski the K-12 dude, and girls will go sterile just looking at you!”
Meanwhile, Lane’s neighbors, the dweeblicious obesi-hunk Ricky Smith (Dan Schneider of “Head of the Class”) and his mother bring Monique (the comely Diane Franklin, previously of the 1980s HBO mainstay Private School), a foreign exchange student from France, to live with them for the year. Monique, however, feigns ignorance of the English language to keep Ricky’s “testicles” at bay, but nevertheless falls for Lane after he inadvertently blew up Ricky’s mom. (You read that right.) Lane woos Monique with TV dinners and sultry saxophone, and she repairs his busted Camaro, making it possible for Lane to finally match-up in a street race with two Asian fellas who learned to speak English from Howard Cosell.
It’s that kind of movie: A brilliant high-school set absurdist comedy, a film that eschews punchlines and traditional ’80s cheesy humor in favor of memorable quotes and animatronic hamburgers that rock out to Van Halen’s “Everybody Wants Some.” But, really, what makes Better Off Dead so exceptional are not only the absurdist elements (the overanxious geometry students are classic, as is Ricky’s bizarre face-first prom dance) , but the film’s many running gags — the relentlessly psychotic paperboy (“I want my two dollars!”); the mother who makes meals so awful they literally walk off the plate; the seven-year old brother who can fashion laser guns and rocket ships out of household appliances; the Asian drag racers; and of course, the father (“M*A*S*H*“‘s David Ogden Stiers), who can’t manage to keep the garage door windows intact.
Better Off Dead also makes the perfect hangover film — most of the humor in each scene is self-contained and the overall plotline is simple enough that you can doze off during the movie without losing track, yet the film is still sufficiently captivating to keep you from flipping away during the commercial breaks. The music is gloriously cheesy; the faces are attractive; and the whole film is comfortably predicable. It doesn’t hurt, either, that Better Off Dead is profanity-free, so you don’t have to worry about cable censors bleeping dialogue (or worse, dubbing clean words). It also has an amazingly high rewatchability factor, so if you sufficiently space out the hangover viewings, you’ll never grow tired of it. Plus, it’s infinitely quotable and includes one of my all-time favorites: “Go that way really fast; if something gets in your way … turn!” The perfect advice for almost any of life’s difficult situations.
I guess the only negative about Better Off Dead that I can offer is the pang of sadness in watching John Cusack in one of his best roles knowing the whole time just how much that he, personally hated the film. It’s sometimes difficult to maintain one’s respect for Cusack knowing that he famously walked out of a screening after 20 minutes, told Savage Steve Holland that it was the worst film he’d ever seen, and still refuses to talk about it, only referring to Holland as “the director.” But Cusack’s assholery notwithstanding, Better off Dead is a brilliantly kooky, surrealist comedy perfect for Sunday afternoon veisalgia.
Hangover Rating: 9 out of 10 Hairs of the Dog.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives with his wife and son in Ithaca, New York. You may email him, or leave a comment below.