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MGM Studios DVD presents
The Sure Thing (1984)

Gib: You have a credit card?!
Alison: I have a credit card!
Gib: You have a credit card.
Alison: Oh, my dad told me, specifically, I can only use it in case of an emergency.
Gib: Well, maybe one will come up.

- John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga

Review By: Jeff Rosado  
Published: August 11, 2003

Stars: John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Nicollette Sheridan, Anthony Edwards, Tim Robbins, Lisa Jane Persky
Other Stars: Viveca Lindfors, Boyd Gaines, Steve Pink, George Memmoli, Sunshine Parker, Larry Hankin, Carmen Filpi, Tracy Reiner
Director: Rob Reiner

Manufacturer: Laser Pacific
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, sexual situations, partial nudity
Run Time: 01h:34m:44s
Release Date: August 05, 2003
UPC: 027616865748
Genre: romantic comedy


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A A+A-A A-

DVD Review

"We tried to make a comedy for teenagers and young adults that wasn't stupid." -Rob Reiner (from the disc's commentary track)

In an era of sexually-assaulted apple pies and accidental hair gels, oh, how we could use an intelligent teen romance. Two decades ago, when movie theaters were permeated by the likes of Porky's and Losin' It, I'm sure brainy types had similar yearnings. Avoiding the dreaded sophomore jinx, This is Spinal Tap director Rob Reiner gave bookworms and closet romantics, everywhere, the fix they needed with The Sure Thing, a smart, funny, and sweet comedy that still holds up magnificently.

John Cusack has his breakout role as Walter 'Gib' Gibson, a wiseacre incoming college freshman bemoaning his lack of luck with the ladies to best buddy Lance (Anthony Edwards), during their last night of freedom before parting to attend different schools. Several days into the fall semester, Gib's English professor (Viveca Lindfors) forces him to seek tutoring from Alison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga), an intelligent classmate tightly wound to the point of keeping even the most mundane impending to-do's in her daily planner. This study partnership seems doomed before they pass through the library turnstile: Defying the odds, Ally and Gibby appear to have some common ground to build a friendship upon, thanks to his above average knowledge of astronomy revealed during a study break, which intrigues her. But Gib blows it by resorting to his line-feeding routine, making for a swift end to the evening, and their short-lived "student union."

Prior to Christmas break, Gib's in a state of the holiday blues when Lance telephones from the west coast, and invites him out to California to take his mind off things, but Gib makes excuses, citing upcoming finals. However, after giving a second look at a snapshot of a gorgeous California blonde (Nicollette Sheridan) Lance included in a recent letter, Gib has a change of heart. With promises and visions of a "sure thing" dancing in his head (hey, it beats sugar plums to a college kid), Gibby makes a mad dash to the campus ride board in search of a westbound driver. Cue the gosh-darn perky chauffer duo of Gary Cooper ("Not the Gary Cooper that's dead." -Tim Robbins) and Mary Ann Webster (Lisa Jane Persky), the latter of whose "come on in" demeanor instantly grates upon Gib's nerves. As a bonus, there's an extra-added attraction in the back seat—for the next 3000 miles, he's going to have companionship: Alison, who's also headed to the Golden State to reunite with her boyfriend.

Tensions slowly mount between the two on the first part of the journey as they silently endure Gary and Mary Ann's incessant warbling of show-tunes (hmmm, I wonder if they know any South Pacific?), followed by an uncomfortable night's stay at a roadside motel. On day two, the theatrics move to the back seat. With Alison and Gib bickering worse than an old married couple, Gary and Mary Ann prove they're human after all, promptly tossing them out in the middle of nowhere. Now our 1980s equivalent of Clark Gable/Claudette Colbert are forced to hitchhike their way onward (but pretty Alison doesn't even have to show leg to get a truck driver to pull over).

Unlike many youth-oriented films from the 1980s that have not aged well, The Sure Thing remains true to its name. Thanks to a premise that has no expiration date (opposites who eventually attract), a first-class script laced with wit and warmth (courtesy of Jonathan Roberts/Steven Bloom), Reiner's bull's-eye direction (which laid the groundwork for future masterwork, When Harry Met Sally), and a flawless cast, this film retains the vibrancy and relevance of its 1985 debut. Cusack's razor sharp leading man debut still amazes, and Zuniga is equally good (why she didn't attain greater heights is dumbfounding). In addition to great supporting turns from Edwards, Robbins, Persky, and Sheridan, veteran character actress Viveca Lindfors brings classy intellect to what could have been a making-time role as Professor Taub, and Tony-winning actor Boyd Gaines is perfect as Jason, Alison's California-based boyfriend.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A+

 

Image Transfer

 OneTwo
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno
Anamorphicyesno


Image Transfer Review: Taking into account its low budget, and its washed out appearance on video, I didn't expect revelatory results. Enhancing their reputation as the most underrated DVD studio in terms of catalog product, MGM (with the aid of Laser Pacific) does it again: once muted colors are noticeably improved; sharpness and clarity are exceptional. Aside from occasional haloing and flawed stray shots (the first motel stopover; Zuniga's overly dark blow up) that are no doubt related to the source, the end results are as golden as Nicollette Sheridan's tan. Also, for those who just can't get past those pesky black bars (probably you, Jason), a full-screen version is included, along with its much cuter 1.85:1 cousin on the dual-layer side of the disc.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: We've come a long way from the early days of the format where remixed mono soundtracks struck terror in the hearts of purists. Front-oriented as are most comedies (with just the right amount of dialogue ambience and split sound effects), the rears help give the underrated soundtrack (including classics from The Cars, John Waite, The Eagles, and composer Tom Scott's score) a fullness it never achieved in theaters, as well as some surprisingly enveloping moments (especially during the soaking rainstorm sequence). Smooth low end and crisp dialogue round out quite an impressive job, but traditionalists, you have not been forsaken: the original mono is included (but I guarantee it lacks the warmth and clarity of the overhaul).

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring MGM Means Great Movies, Best Of The 80s
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Rob Reiner
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. The Road to The Sure Thing
  2. Dressing The Sure Thing
  3. Casting The Sure Thing
  4. Reading The Sure Thing
Extras Review: In contrast to what I have read on forums about his most recent commentary tracks, I found Rob Reiner to be a very laid back yet informative host (this is my first chance to sample his musings). Wise enough to speak when he has something relative to say rather than trying to fill every minute with chat, the veteran director offers much in the way of fascinating stories, including shying out of directing string bikini-clad Sheridan during the infamous opening sequence, his penchant for including visual references to his past movies and, most shockingly, how he had never seen Frank Capra's comedic masterpiece, It Happened One Night (a film many reviewers compared Sure Thing to) prior to shooting, particularly fascinating since many of the purely platonic bedroom scenes involving Zuniga and Cusack echo the infamous "Walls of Jericho" sequences in that 1930s screwball classic.

Other extras come in the form of a decent documentary and three featurettes that focus on the creative aspects of making Reiner's first romantic comedy. All the participants noted below are so good, my only misgiving on this package as a whole is that they weren't showcased on their own commentary tracks. But, it's the next best thing.

The Road to The Sure Thing (26:14) includes new interviews with Reiner, Sheridan, Zuniga and Cusack in a quick moving, nicely paced retrospective that covers a lot of ground about the inner workings of the project, from its grinding studio pitch that left co-writer Bloom exhausted, to how Zuniga and Cusask's contrasting acting styles worked to the film's benefit.

Dressing The Sure Thing (8:47) features costume designer Dorinda Wood's demonstrating how those in her profession help enhance characters via fashion. Her tales of Tim Robbin's invaluable imagination and Nicollette Sheridan's expertise in beach wear are the highlights.

Casting The Sure Thing (7:17) gives casting directors Jane Jenkins and Janet Hirshenson the floor. These longtime Reiner creative mainstays offer fascinating insight into the process of choosing actors, including the revelation that Anthony Edwards was a front-runner for the Gib role (until Cusack bowled Reiner over with his reading), and how the lovely Sheridan reduced the male workers behind the scenes to "jelly."

Reading The Sure Thing (5:00) is an unusual but clever piece in which co-writer Jonathan Bloom reads the original treatment for the film, in full.

If you still feel undernourished after such a vast helping of extras, try the enclosed (and rather misnamed) Trivia Track for mental dessert during your next viewing. Using your subtitle function for access, you'll be treated to a non-stop barrage of behind-the-scenes tidbits via VH1 "Pop-Up Video"-style imagery (minus the annoying sound effects), featuring more information on shooting locales than you'll ever wanna know, script tweaks, background on the actors and song identifications (for the five of you who haven't experienced the wonder that is Huey Lewis and The News. Seriously).

Finally, if you want to appreciate how finely tuned our feature presentation is, check out the enclosed trailer in all its 2nd-run movie house/college circuit glory.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

One of Rob Reiner's most underrated films, one that proved filmmakers didn't have to resort to the lowest common denominator in order to attract the coveted youth demographic. More than worthy of Special Edition status, MGM's winning treatment of The Sure Thing should be at the top of your '80s DVD checklist as one of the few films of that period that still sparkles. Highest recommendation.

 


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