Jun 11, 2023

Savage Saturday

Cusack Attack: Better Off Dead / One Crazy Summer

Mahoning Drive-In Theater - Lehighton, PA
Saturday night at the Mahoning Drive-In Theater with a double feature of comedies from the 1980's starring the great John Cusack: Better Off Dead (1985) and One Crazy Summer (1986).

I've seen both of these movies before at different times of my life, but I'm pretty sure that I had only watched them once, and it wasn't a situation where I could give either film my undivided attention, so I appreciated the opportunity to get to see them both on the big screen at the drive-in.

Show banner designed by Andrew Kern

I can understand why the event was called Cusack Attack.  This is a case where the star's name is definitely going to get more attention and sell more tickets.  Still, if I were promoting this show, I would have been tempted to call it Savage Saturday.  Both movies were written, directed, and feature animation from the one and only Savage Steve Holland.  Even if you've never watched one of his films, you've probably seen his work if you ever watched game shows.

The Whammy characters in Press Your Luck were animated by Savage Steve Holland.  He also worked on the Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures cartoon series, as well as the creator and writer of both Eek The Cat and Sabrina: The Animated Series.

The reason I'm mentioning this is because I feel that both of last night's movies were also cartoons, and I don't just mean the animated segments.  They're classified by most fans as 80's romantic comedies, and they're often compared to the works of John Hughes, but I find that they have almost nothing in common with his work, or with almost any other teen comedy of the era for that matter.  The characters, the dialogue, the jokes, and the outlandish scenes and stories in both Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer have the distinct feel of a cartoon.  They both just happen to use actors instead of drawings to bring the story to life.

Before I get too much further into the movies, we've got to talk about the food.

Beth's creation in the snack bar was the Everybody Wants Some cheeseburger, which was topped with cheddar cheese, bacon, and a secret sauce.  It was the kind of thing that I'd order in a restaurant - very tasty!

There was a nice introduction to the first film of the night given by actress Diane Franklin.  She played the French exchange student and John Cusack's eventual love interest, Monique Junot, in Better Off Dead.  She also played the main love interest in the the early 80's sex comedy The Last American Virgin, but I'll always remember her best as Princess Joanna in the Bill & Ted universe.

The first movie of the night was Better Off Dead.  In addition to John Cusack and Diane Franklin, the movie includes performances from Curtis Armstrong (Booger in the Revenge Of The Nerds movies), David Ogden Stiers (Major Winchester in M*A*S*H), Amanda Wyss (Tina Gray in A Nightmare On Elm Street), and Yuji Okumoto (Chozen in The Karate Kid: Part II).

According to Savage Steve Holland, John Cusack called this movie "the worst thing I have ever seen", and learning about that has made me lose a lot of respect for him.  I get that he takes himself very seriously, and maybe he didn't see himself as a comic actor, but you don't bite the hand that feeds you, especially when you're a wet behind the ears kid who was lucky enough to be handed a starring role in a hit film at 19 years old.  Without the work of writer/directors like Mr. Holland, nobody would have ever heard of John Cusack.

Despite the petulance of its lead actor, Better Off Dead is a very funny movie, but if you're expecting a drama-heavy teen comedy, you're probably going to be disappointed.  Like I said earlier, this movie is a live action cartoon: the mother's cooking, the little brother's inventions, the best friend snorting snow off of a mountain because he can't get real drugs in his town, the Korean brothers who drag race while one of them issues challenges from a loudspeaker in Howard Cosell's voice, the army of paperboys hunting for the $2 that is owed to one of them, and the fact that seemingly everybody in town goes out of their way to let Lane know that they're taking his ex-girlfriend out on a date... seemingly every scene feels like it's being plucked from a mid 90's adult cartoon or anime series.  If you go into this movie with the intent of letting it tell you the story that it wants to tell on its own terms, you're going to laugh your ass off and have a great time. 

The second half of the double feature was One Crazy Summer.  While this isn't as much of a live action cartoon as Better Off Dead, that same description could still apply.  The performances of Tom Villard and Bobcat Goldthwait as fraternal twin brothers is hysterically funny, with the latter delivering one liners that play perfectly off of Cusack.

This movie has a lot in common with Better Off Dead.  Both films are wacky, over-the-top teen comedies that feature Cusack as a young artist who discovers who his love interest really is about halfway through the film, and who overcomes a jock bully in a sporting event (skiing in the previous movie, and boating in this one) with the help of his friends at the end of the film.  They play together perfectly as a double feature, and I'm glad to have had them reintroduced to me in this way at the drive-in.