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Check This Out: "Better Off Dead"

Filmmaker Christopher Wood reviews movies from the Tacoma Public Library


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Some days you just don't feel like paying for another Redbox rental, and the next movie on your Netflix queue takes FOREVER to arrive in your mailbox. And recession or no, who can pass up free, convenient entertainment? Every Tuesday, "Check This Out" recommends movies available at any of the eight branches of your friendly Tacoma Public Library. So you can satisfy your next film fix at the place with the books.

I scan the DVD shelves at the George O. Swasey branch of the Tacoma Public Library (7001 Sixth Ave.), always unable to begin my search anywhere but at the A's (for Anal-retentive I guess), at first not really looking for a quote-unquote "Thanksgiving movie." But hey, as the writer of this column I suppose I owe it to you, A-for-Awesome Reader, to join in the festiveness and at least make some effort to suggest entertainment for helping all that turkey go down easier.

Finding nothing Appetizing in the A's I quickly move on to the next letter, and I see it - the case spine of Better Off Dead just waiting for me. My endless search, over.

I know, this corny high schooler comedy starring John Cusack seems a far cry from your It's A Wonderful Lifes and Elfs. But it does have snow - a whole mountain of it, it fact - and a sequence set at Christmastime. But regardless of setting, certain movies just fire off the nostalgia neurons in me noggin, so anything that transports me back to childhood this time of year (Better Off Dead was released in 1985, one year after my birth) works just fine, and you may agree.

The film works both as a time capsule for '80s pop culture and as a wink to those same trends. You got your Tangerine Dream-y soundtrack, the well-meaning but a bit kooky suburban family (who always eats breakfast together), and at the heart of it all a gawky teenager whose biggest worries involve a treacherous ski slope, the school's strapping jock and a vengeful paperboy. Ah, such simpler times ...

Cusack plays Lane Meyer (which sounds like "Lame" much of the time), a kid recently cast aside by his blonde-haired girlfriend Beth so she can date fellow fair-haired Roy Stalin (Stalin!). He follows this rejection with a few comically half-hearted suicide attempts, but puts all that foolishness aside when he meets French foreign exchange student Monique, who just happens to reside across the street from Lane's house.

A parade of '80s icons stop by - actor Curtis Armstrong (Booger from the Nerds films) plays Lane's still-nose-obsessed best friend, Yuji Okumoto (best known as Chozen from The Karate Kid, Part II) does an impressive Howard Cosell impersonation, and "Porky" from Porky's still continues his fuming, cigar-chomping shtick. Add a few nods to everything from Thriller to the "Take On Me" music video to dancing Claymation hamburgers (the inspiration for the California Raisins perhaps?), and I've reached a state of retro bliss.

And are those tentacles emerging from the big pot Lane's mom has on the stove? Bon appétit with Better Off Dead, and Happy Thanksgiving!

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Judging by the Trailer

Better Off Dead wishes you a happy aardvark-filled holiday season:

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