Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Sure Thing (1985)

Get ready for a nice surprise near the end of The Sure Thing (Special Edition).

With too many films about teens made during the 1980s focused on getting naked and lucky, this Rob Reiner effort offers a neat, and very much welcome, twist.

Walter 'Gib Gibson (John Cusack) wants to have sex. Badly. If a late-night chat with pal Lance (Anthony Edwards) at the film's start can be believed, he notched numerous sexual conquests during his high school years. That's a little hard to believe when he tries to pick up a girl at a party with a line that definitely falls flat. "Consider outer space," he begins. 'Gib is in a major funk with college fast approaching.

Lance opts for the sunny climes of California. "Home of the waves and the babes," he suggests. Lance sends his buddy, on the opposite coast, a photo of a stunning young thing and writes, 'This is the ugliest girl in California.' He suggests there is a stunning, blond eagerly waiting to meet him, among other things. She is, Lance tells his friend, a Sure Thing. He can have sex with this incredibly beautiful young woman with no strings attached.

'Gib is definitely interested, but he's also struggling badly with his studies. Crafting essays on eating pizza is not endearing him with his English professor (Viveca Lindfors). He needs help hitting the books and approaches classmate Alison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga).

Bradbury is smart, attractive, but would have trouble finding adventure and free-spiritedness in the dictionary. She has a boyfriend, Jason (Boyd Gaines), who's also on the west coast. He's also a bit of a stuffed shirt.

'Gib and Bradbury have a rocky start. He's more interested in bedding her than getting a much-needed boost to his marks. A few months pass and both find themselves sharing a ride with an uptight couple (including Tim Robbins) out west. 'Gib wants The Sure Thing. Bradbury wants to see her boyfriend.

When Gary Cooper (Robbins) and Mary Ann Webster (Lisa Jane Persky) tire of the students squabbling, they get turfed. The college kids have to find alternative ways of getting to their respective destinations. Bradbury gets to learn more about 'Gib's better character traits and the pizza-loving freshman learns a lot about looking beyond a woman's physical attributes.

I won't spoil the surprise here. But watch for a conversation between Alison and Jason near the film's end. He suspects there's something up between his honey and the brash 'Gib. Gibson encounters a similar experience when he's finally alone with The Sure Thing. Was this kind of honesty explored in other films of the era such as Losin' It and Private School?

This is one of Cusack's earliest films. He's a little too much to take in some scenes, but I'll blame that on his assigned dialogue.

The Sure Thing is sweet. There's a nice chemistry between Zuniga and Cusack. The choice between quick sex and a loving, long-term relationship is well-handled. The film is a little dated, but some one-liners from different characters including Cowboy Guy are a treat. There's a neat sight gag during a heavy rainstorm and some good physical comedy.

The soundtrack includes a nice mix of major 1980s acts including Devo, Huey Lewis and the News, Quiet Riot and The Cars. There's an aptly chosen track by Rod Stewart.

I have vague memories of film critic Roger Ebert bemoaning how old actors are in films about teenagers. Gaines was in his early 30s when The Sure Thing was released. Good grief. His character should have been well established in his career instead of still living in a college dorm.

Rating: 7/10 '

FUN FACTS: Persky also appeared in Reiner's When Harry Met Sally. Anthony Edwards appeared in an episode of police squad!
The Sure Thing was Nicollette Sheridan's film debut.

Cast: John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Anthony Edwards, Tim Robbins, Viveca Lindfors, Nicollette Sheridan.

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