Better Off Dead (1985)

better off dead

“Didn’t ask for a dime. Two dollars.”


Justin’s rating: A movie or a morbid suggestion checklist? You decide.

Justin’s review:  Ah, I love ’80s flicks. More specifically, I love ’80s flicks because they just had the trait of not taking themselves too seriously. They weren’t out to impress the cool kids in school; often, they shared a strong spiritual bond with the geeks, the freaks, and the smelly kid in the corner. By losing a sense of self-consciousness and a need to sell a billion punk-rock soundtracks to teens, these movies freed themselves up to be nothing more or less than funny. Fantasy scene? Funny! Broad stereotypes? Funny! Prom scenes with puffy-sleeved dresses? Funny!

Better Off Dead, an early John Cusack movie, paints itself into a world that we might have conjured up while daydreaming in history class. It seems normal on the outset, oh sure, but then mothers blow up, little boys hook up with trashy women, obsession is redefined, claymation hamburgers come to life, Japanese drag racers challenge kids in their parents’ station wagons, and yuppiedom will never be the same.

Cusack plays Lane Meyer, a high school teen in the middle of the social order who loses his long-loved girlfriend of six months. Considering that his entire wardrobe and bedroom sports her likeness, he logically deduces that his life is over. Woe is him. He must kill himself. And thus the movie begins!

Lane’s problem is that his entire world is loopy and is actively working against him. His suicide attempts repeatedly fail, his best friend mistakes mountaintop snow as snortable “powder,” his mother is about the worst cook you’ve ever seen (just in case you’re about to cite a relative, ask yourself this: have they ever boiled bacon?), and the new French cutie across the street is practically being held hostage by a fat lard.

This movie typifies the ’80s in many ways that I am fond of: ridiculous outfits, synthesiser heaven, cute no-name actresses that are perfect for a teen’s crush, and a guaranteed happy ending. Forget cowboys, Paula Cole — where have all the great comedies gone?

Sure, Better Off Dead is a little dumb at points (I finger the belabored claymation hamburger scene), but the majority of the movie is laugh after laugh. The characters are so off-the-wall, from the evil paperboy (“I want my two dollars!”) to the math teacher that everyone loves (and isn’t that how it was for all of us, oh yes?). There’s a weak plot about believing in oneself (a philosophy that was shot to hell about the same time Kurt Cobain did), but it’s beefed up in so much humor that I doubt anyone will really care.

If you need a movie without intense moral discussions, that has a side dish of insanity whipped into a blend of herbs and dates gone awry, Better Off Dead can do you no harm.


Kyle’s rating: I’m a 15 year-old in a 20 year-old’s body! (The Cusack Experience part 2)

Kyle’s review: Throughout my high school years, there was this guy named Chris (no, the other one) with whom I would get into long-winded conversations/arguments over everything. We ultimately talked mostly about films. No matter where we started, we’d work around to one topic: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off versus Better Off Dead. Idiot Boy would say “Oh, Better Off Dead is the best! I am a fat idiot! Blah blah blah!” I’m paraphrasing, of course.

I, being a somewhat subversive angst-less seemingly-normal modern fringe anarchist located kind of off-center of the mainstream, felt that the “hip” qualities, high production values and charm of Matthew Broderick as Ferris is what put FBDO at the top of the high school film comedy list. I had to pull out the big pseudo-intellectual guns in these discussions, since I actually had never seen Better Off Dead and didn’t want to admit it. Heh heh. I also didn’t want to see it yet, just in case I really liked it and had to admit that to Chris, and then have to sit there as he laughed triumphantly and got me so angry I would have to tear off his head and vomit down his throat in calculus. And that about sums up high school for me.

Many years later, a bit more mature and definitely more patient and appreciative of off-the-wall reel lunacy, I’ve finally seen Better Off Dead. I loved it. Loved it!

I’m soooo glad I saw it “now” versus “then,” because then-Kyle was a punk who wouldn’t have valued the boy-loses-girl, boy-half-heartedly-opts-for-suicide, then-falls-for-new-girl with off-beat surrealism thrown into the overall warped structure of Better Off Dead.

I just used a lot of words to say this movie rules, sorry about that. Now-Kyle can see Better Off Dead is a very excellent film. Now-Kyle can see John Cusack is the Man. Now-Kyle can see French chicks are really cooler, though they aren’t quite California girls. Now-Kyle realizes the big fat guy across the street is probably a nasal spray-sniffing fiend. I’ll take care of him later, but right now I have to stress to everyone: see this movie if you haven’t, see it again if you have! Don’t be a fool, be more amused by school and life by analyzing the legendary exploits of the unflappable Cusack. And damn you for being right, Chris!

Those welder goggles help so much with the tight turns.
Those welder goggles help so much with the tight turns.


  • During the New Year’s Dance at Lane’s school, check out the singer who performs the “Better Off Dead” song. The hair is a little much, but what the hell is that on her body? It looks like some type of medieval jousting armor gone mad. Let me know, fashion experts of the cult!
  • Chuck Mitchell, who owned “Porky’s” in Porky’s, owns “The Pig Burger” in this film.
  • Lane’s little brother, Badger, has no lines in the entire film.
  • It’s worth staying through the end credits – we get to witness Badger’s final masterpiece!
  • Nothing special about the soundtrack. The title song is “meh” and the score is Casio-produced.
  • People protested the film’s original tagline, “Sometimes…you’re Better Off Dead,” so it was changed to “Relax…you’re never Better Off Dead.”

Groovy Dialogue

Monique: He keeps putting his testicles all over me.
Lane: Excuse me?
Monique: You know, like octopus? Testicles?
Lane: Ohhhh. Tentacles. N-T. Big difference there.

Lane: Sorry Johnny, I don’t have a dime.
Johnny: Didn’t ask for a dime. Two dollars.
Lane: My mom’s not home. She had to take my brother to the hospital. My grandma dropped acid this morning, and she was really stressed out. She hijacked a busload full of… penguins. It’s sort of a family crisis. Bye!

Charles De Mar: Suicide is never the answer little trooper!

Lane: Gee, I’m real sorry your mom blew up, Ricky. Doctor says she just won’t be able to eat spicy foods for a while.

Dad: [trying to be “hip”] Right off!
Lane: On, dad.

Phone repair guy: [As Lane goes by in a garbage truck] Now it’s a shame when folks be throwin’ away a perfectly good white boy like that!

Charles De Mar: Go that way, really fast; if something gets in your way… turn.

Charles De Mar: This is pure snow! It’s everywhere! Have you any idea of what the street value of this mountain is?

Charles De Mar: How are we going to get real drugs in this town? We can’t even get cable!

Lane Myer: Two brothers… One speaks no English, the other learned English from watch “The Wide World of Sports.” So you tell me… Which is better, speaking no English at all, or speaking Howard Cosell?

If you enjoyed this movie, try:

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