Being that I grew up without cable television and didn’t always get the chance to get to a video store, there were times in my formative years where I lived for a good movie on broadcast television. The local stations always seemed to comply with my wishes, too, because WPIX seemed to have one of the deepest film libraries imaginable, and even our local Fox affiliate would bust out something random when the network wasn’t running their primetime programming. And of course you had the ABC Sunday Night Movie, which is where I got most of my exposure to the Roger Moore-era Bond films as well as various versions of the first two Superman movies. The 1980s and early 1990s were a glorious period of movies on television, and are definitely directly responsible for my ongoing obsession of teen films, especially those of the two Johns: Hughes and Cusack.
Now, I think one day I will probably do an entire post on the edited-for-television version of The Breakfast Club because it has its own place in the “Children of the Eighties” museum, and how WPIX seemed to have all of the rights to all of John Cusack’s mid-1980s teen comedies, even Hot Pursuit, which is one of those “Someone greenlighted this?” films that only the most hardcore of teen movie buffs will sit through. I’ll even go into Better Off Dead, which was the start of my Cusack fandom (up until then, I’d recognized him as the older brother in Stand By Me and The Journey of Natty Gann, the latter of which made me bawl my eyes out when I first saw it), because I would rather focus on one of the films that is in my All-Time Desert Island Top Five Cusack films, and that is The Sure Thing (the others, in chronological order, are Better Off Dead, Say Anything …, Grosse Pointe Blank, and High Fidelity).
Directed by Rob Reiner in 1985, The Sure Thing was his follow-up to the seminal This is Spinal Tap and has the most Eightiesness about his films from that decade, even though it does not look dated at all (except for maybe Nicolette Sheridan’s hair and the fact that her breasts are real, but we’ll get to that). I first saw the film in 1991 when it had its network broadcast premiere on Fox one summer evening. I was about to enter high school at the time and therefore the strict 8:00 bedtime my parents had maintained up until that point was starting to be eased, especially since it was the summer and I didn’t have school and rarely went out at night because I was either without rebellious friends or spending the summer recovering from some kind of facial surgery.
Anyway, I had heard of the film’s title because I had the easy-level sheet music to Rod Stewart’s “infatuation” in a movie themes book for the piano. Never played it, though because I didn’t like Rod Stewart very much and the only thing I remembered about that song was the black-and-white video where he’s being really pervy. The way the song is used in the film, by the way, is where I am sure that David Hasselhoff got his inspiration for about a hundred Baywatch montages, because it’s simply Nicolette Sheridan in a white bikini on a beach putting a blanket down, putting lotion on, and laying out while a very 1980s-looking title font rolls credits. And even though I don’t like the song, I give props to Reiner because it’s a damn near perfect introduction.
I stuck with the movie not because of Sheridan (although being that I was fourteen years old, I was definitely, shall we say, intrigued), but because I noticed Cusack’s name in the credits and I had just spent most of the summer watching my taped copies of Better Off Dead and One Crazy Summer to the point where I had every line memorized and they were already wearing out. Rob Reiner was a director I was slightly familiar with too, having watched Stand By Me and The Princess Bride quite a bit. And the plot was simple enough to keep me going through Fox’s various commercial breaks that advertised the only thing it had going for it in the summer, which was the beach club episodes of Beverly Hills, 90210 (I can never remember the name of the beach club, btw. I want to say Malibu Sands, but that was Saved By The Bell … ah, Stacy Carosi …): guy travels 3,000 miles to get laid.
Okay, that’s not the entire plot of the movie because the 3,000 miles to get laid part starts after the movie’s first act is over and that first act sets up the two major characters: Walter “Gib” Gibson (Cusack) and Allison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga, who I definitely knew from Spaceballs). They’re attending college together at some ivy league-type school in the northeast (Gib tells his friend that he’s “never seen so much corduroy in one place”) and much like any good romantic comedy where opposites attract, they don’t really like each other after they first meet and by the time they wind up stuck together on the road trip to UCLA, where his friend Lance (a pre-Goose but nicely fratbro Anthony Edwards) has arranged a night with The Sure Thing; and her boyfriend Jason (Boyd Gaines) attends, they absolutely despise one another.
At this point, the film actually becomes a road movie and very much in the classic sense, which is what I think gives The Sure Thing its timelessness. It’s one of those movies that I’m sure hasn’t been attempted in the remake/reboot sense, and I have a feeling that if a remake was attempted it would fall completely flat because it would be more like Road Trip, which has its moments but also has diminishing returns on subsequent viewings. I’ve been watching The Sure Thing for twenty years—first on a pirated VHS copy and then on DVD—and to this day I laugh my ass off the entire way through. I think it has to do with how realistic the situations and characters actually are. A movie like Road Trip might be zany and crazy, but what happens to Allison and Gib while they’re on the road in The Sure Thing could very well still happen. Reiner and the screenwriters seemed to take a lot of care to make sure that the film felt organic and that comedic bits, such as Allison’s flashing a truck full of guys after Gib calls her repressed, aren’t forced.
The credit also goes to the entire cast, too. Cusack’s obviously the star (and it’s hard to believe that he was only 17 and actually had to be emancipated from his parents in order to shoot on location), and he nails every line and rant (his “if I fail English my life is ruined” bit is a classic). But it’s not a John Cusack showcase; Zuniga’s job is to elevate the comedy above that of stuff like Porky’s, and she plays Allison like a Mallory Keaton with a brain. Then, you have her on-screen boyfriend, Jason, who is the epitome of the “square” and should be a one note character, but Boyd Gaines delivers his lines so well that he almost steals certain scenes, especially when it becomes obvious that Allison is kind of over him. The line, “How about a good hot mug of China Black?” which should be a random line, is quite possibly one of the funniest lines in Eighties teen movies.
But I digress. I could very well sit down and talk for at least a couple of hours (or in our case, 1500 more words) about all of the little things that make this such a favorite of mine. I’m just honestly pleased that a film genre that is very so often disposable has produced a gem like this.