The Sure Thing (1985) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for some sexual references and language
Running Time: 100 min.
Cast: John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Anthony Edwards, Nicolette Sheridan, Boyd Gaines, Viveca Lindfors, Tim Robbins
Director: Rob Reiner
Screenplay: Steven Bloom, Jonathan Roberts
Rob Reiner followed up his cult smash comedy, This is Spinal Tap, with a more conventional form of film: the road trip comedy. It's a bit of an easy putt to make on first glance, as the mid-80s were chock full of lowbrow teen comedies, where the main quest for the male protagonist is to just get laid. The fact that no one at the time expected much more than a dumb teen sex flick was a very strong point in its favor, as The Sure Thing offers quite a bit of insight into what's important in life, even in the minds of those who haven't yet experienced it. It also has John Cusack (Better Off Dead, One Crazy Summer) in his first starring role, knocking it out of the park in his debut with a memorable role, cementing the on-screen personality that would make him such a fan favorite in romantic comedies even to this day.
The movie starts off with Cusack playing the typical high school kid, on the verge of graduation, getting his last chance at striking out among the high school girls before making his decision on where to go to college. Anthony Edwards (Revenge of the Nerds, Gotcha!) plays his buddy going out to California, trying desperately to get Cusack to come too, but snowy New Hampshire wins out in the end. Sunny California looks mighty appealing once winter break comes around, especially when he gets a photograph of a hot bikini babe (Sheridan, Beverly Hills Ninja) that not only has conceded to go out with him, but is said to be a "sure thing" when it comes to getting her in the sack, with no strings attached. However, the road to Cali isn't quite as idyllic as the destination, as he is stuck with his classmate, Allison (Zuniga, Spaceballs), whose reserved nature and upper-crust attitude cause the two travelers to be at odds at every corner.
The Sure Thing doesn't gain many points for originality, as this is the kind of plot that you've seen since Hollywood began making movies (it's little more than a regurgitation of It Happened One Night). The humor is also somewhat hit-and-miss, with a tendency to go for trite standards like, "this couldn't possibly get any worse," and then it rains. However, somewhere amid the conventions of the teen flick and road movie, some decent qualities emerge in the writing. First-time screenwriters Bloom (Overnight Delivery, Like Father Like Son) and Roberts (The Lion King, Once Bitten) sprinkle some colorful dialogue throughout the film, and actually delve into a poignant moment or two, elevating the formulaic nature into one of the better films of the genre.
While Reiner's direction is adept enough to make this a decent film, it's really in the casting where he deserves credit. John Cusack carries the movie on his shoulders, putting himself completely into the role, and doing what he would do so well throughout his career: showing genuine sweetness underneath the smart-ass exterior. Zuniga also impresses with a good depiction of a somewhat repressed college girl; while it might have been easy to play it stereotypically, she gives her character the humanity necessary to make any subsequent romantic notions work.
If you love 80s films, John Cusack, or road trip movies, and still haven't seen The Sure Thing, it is highly recommended you do so on your next trip to the video store. It may not be a movie that's going to change your life, or even make your day, but for the two hours you spend watching it, it should give you a lot to smile about.
©2003, 2007 Vince Leo