When college student Walter Gibson (John Cusack) gets set up for a date with an incredibly gorgeous blonde (Nicollette Sheridan in her film debut), he’s ready to go to the ends of the earth — or at least across the country — to capitalize on this “sure thing.” Paired up with tightly-wound coed Alison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga) via the campus ride-share program, he heads west for Los Angeles. But as the obstacles begin to pile up, he and Alison begin to form an unexpected bond… and soon Gib must choose between the sure thing and the real thing.
Coming off his surprise rock mockumentary hit 'This is Spinal Tap,' director Rob Reiner introduced the familiar and long-established romantic-comedy formula to a new and younger generation of moviegoers with the amusingly quirky 'The Sure Thing.' And this was quite the feat and challenge since at the time — that being the early to mid 1980s — most all teen comedies were basically sex romps, placing more emphasis on raging-hormone adventures and nudity while keeping themes about love ambiguous, if not outright at bay. From a script by Jonathan Roberts ('The Lion King,' 'Monsters, Inc.') and Steve Bloom ('Like Father Like Son'), the latter of whom was inspired by a personal experience, Reiner's film starts in typical raunchy-comedy fashion where an amorous college man travels from east to west coast with the promise of sleeping with a beautiful stranger, but it deceptively evolves into standard rom-com territory.
That seemingly scholarly young man is none other than a very young John Cusack in the role that in effect launched his career. He stars as the endearingly likable lummox Walter Gibson, a hopeless romantic, idealist and fidgety goof who doesn't really know his way with women, but that doesn't stop him from continuously trying to find love while writing expressive, indulgent prose on the intrinsic virtues of the pizza for his English class. Essentially, it's the same character Cusack reiterates for the rest of the decade and has been known for in pretty much every movie since, which is not to say it's bad. In fact, he's great at it, and this little flick allowed him to show it for the first time, while proving he can play a leading role. The oddly diffident optimist "Gib" shows he has the gift of the gab, as does Cusack, though not the sort to impress the ladies, which is why best bud Lance (Anthony Edwards) sets up a "sure thing" during winter break.
It's at this point the narrative suddenly transforms into a road movie with a desperate, lust-driven Gib joining a ride-share arranged by the overtly wholesome pair Gary Cooper and Mary Ann Webster (Tim Robbins and Lisa Jane Persky). Funny as the two virtuous prudes are, the real focus is on the studious goodie-two-shoes Alison Bradbury (an enjoyable Daphne Zuniga), a fellow student Gib earlier alienated but now rides with to the same destination. Cusack and Zuniga display a great deal of chemistry as their back-and-forth banter establishes the conventional device of opposite pairs attracting. She's calculated with a future clearly outlined and dogmatically living according to her daily planner, and he's, well, the opposite — impulsive, carefree and unrestrained. While he slowly rubs off on her to enjoy life and have fun, Gib also learns to be more of a gentleman, as shown in the moments about the awkwardness of sharing a bed, which is an added twist to the popular teen comedies of the period.
Though 'The Sure Thing' ends exactly as expected, and almost feels a tad rushed in the final minutes, the film is nonetheless a sweetly gratifying adventure of young love in the 80s, demonstrating that it doesn't always have to push the boundaries into nudity and raging hormones. And to do this, Bloom and Roberts' script repurposed the basic outline set forth by Frank Capra's indelible classic 'It Happened One Night,' sometimes with almost blatant overtness. It's most apparent in the journey from car to hitchhiking cross-country and the delicate sleeping arrangements. Cusack and Zuniga are no Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert, but the two young actors are excellent essentially updating stock personalities while Reiner brilliantly modernized traditional genre tropes for a new generation. Though not often remembered as quintessential, the film's influence can nonetheless be seen in the second half of the 1980s, making it a long-standing favorite among genre and John Cusack fans.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Shout! Factory brings 'The Sure Thing' to Blu-ray on a Region A locked, BD25 disc inside the standard blue keepcase. At startup, viewers are taken to a static menu screen with the usual options and music.
'The Sure Thing' arrives with a very nice-looking 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (1.85:1) though the overall quality isn't exactly up to expectations. Not that I was expecting something immaculate or that it would compare to the best home video examples from the same period, but there are various moments that left me wanting. Granted, the presentation is a marked improvement over its DVD counterpart, showing excellent resolution and good definition throughout, but a majority of the picture falls on the softer side, which arguably may be inherent to the original photography.
Daylight sequences are particularly attractive with a very thin coating of natural grain and plenty of clean visibility in the distance. Nighttime and low-lit segments, however, come with a tad of crush in the darkest portions and shadow details are generally on the average side. On the other hand, one night scene, when Gib and Alison are stuck in a rain shower, is rather impressive, but sadly, there are not many more. Contrast runs from average to sometimes a bit too hot, where a couple moments feel flat and drab while others show some mild blooming in the highlights. Colors are fairly bold, especially the primaries, and the occasional speck of dirt or white spot is kept to a minimum.
Shout Factory delivers the romcom favorite with two listening options, and surprisingly, I found myself enjoying the 5.1 remix over the usually favored mono track, which is true to the original recording. There is nothing so bad with the latter as to make it unlistenable; rather, it just feels flat, narrow and well, all around dull, possibly because there's not much going on with the original design to begin with. However, the former delivers a better sense of presence even though the track remains a very front-heavy presentation. Imagining feels more spacious with a clean, detailed mid-range and good, appropriate bass for the music. Being a character-driven film, dialogue is crisp and precise in the center at all times, making this lossless mix a very enjoyable and engaging soundtrack.
Coming off his surprise rock mockumentary hit 'This is Spinal Tap,' director Rob Reiner introduced the familiar and long-established romantic-comedy formula to a new and younger generation of moviegoers with the amusingly quirky 'The Sure Thing.' Starring John Cusack and Daphne Zuniga in career-making roles, the 1985 teen romantic-comedy may not be remembered as quintessential, but its influence is nonetheless felt, making it a long-standing favorite among genre fans. The Blu-ray arrives with less-than-satisfying but still quite strong audio and video presentation. With a small but decently enjoyable collection of bonuses, the overall package is worth checking out for fans and the curious alike.