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MOVIE INFO
Synopsis:
She's hot. She's willing. And she's...in California! In pursuit of a gorgeous "sure thing", a college student treks across the country...and finds the real thing along the way!

Director:
Rob Reiner
Cast:
John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, Anthony Edwards, Boyd Gaines, Tim Robbins
Writing Credits:
Steven Bloom, Jonathan Roberts

MPAA:
Rated PG-13.

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9
Fullscreen 1.33:1
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Digital Mono
Subtitles:
English, Spanish, French
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 8/5/2003

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Rob Reiner
• Trivia Track
• “The Road to The Sure Thing” Retrospective Featurette
• “Dressing The Sure Thing” Featurette
• “Casting The Sure Thing” Featurette
• “Dressing The Sure Thing” Featurette
• Trailers
• Hidden Menu Features


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The Sure Thing: Special Edition (1985)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 4, 2003)

Back when I was much fatter than I am today, I used to say that I knew of one guaranteed way for me to shed the blubber. If a very attractive woman agreed to sleep with me if I took off X number of pounds, I’d have lost the weight in a heartbeat.

That didn’t happen and I found a different form of motivation. However, this element of my past allows me to still relate to The Sure Thing, a 1985 comedy that deals with the extremes to which men will go to get some action.

At the start of Thing, we meet “Gib” Gibson (John Cusack), a recent high school graduate who ponders his lack of success with the ladies as he prepares to head for college. Although his buddy Lance (Anthony Edwards) promises things will be different then, they aren’t; Gib finds no sexual success at his Ivy League university.

However, he does develop an interest in a button-down classmate named Alison Bradbury (Daphne Zuniga). She’s his perfect opposite. Gib’s spontaneous and creative but undisciplined, while Alison dots every “I” and crosses every “T” but lacks any form of spark or zest for life.

When Gib gets a bad grade on an English paper due to his sloppy writing skills, he implores Alison to tutor him, and she reluctantly agrees. Although she has a boyfriend in college on the west coast, Gib actually starts to get her to like him until he makes a really cheesy move on her. This backfires and he seems to miss his shot.

Time passes and Gib gets an offer from Lance to visit him in California over winter break. He resists until Lance promises that if he comes to the west coast, he’ll get a date with a super babe (Nicollette Sheridan) who’s a “sure thing”.

Lickety-split, Gib signs up to share a ride out to California. However, he ends up with Alison, who also needs to lift so she can see her boyfriend. To put it mildly, the pair get on each others’ nerves. They also irritate their auto hosts, Gary Cooper (Tim Robbins) and Mary Ann Webster (Lisa Jane Persky), a chipper pair who can’t stand the bickering.

Eventually the kids become too much for Gary and Mary Ann, and they get tossed out of the car in the middle of nowhere. They fight some more as they attempt to regroup and make their way out to LA. Gib and Alison slowly bond as they endure many hardships on the road, and inevitably, they grow close. Will Gib go for “the sure thing” or will he follow his heart with Alison?

If you don’t know the answer, I don’t think you’ve ever actually seen a movie. I won’t call Thing predictable, but I also can’t say that it follows a path that includes any real surprises.

Not that I regard that as necessarily being a bad thing. For his follow up to 1983’s This Is Spinal Tap, his directorial debut, Rob Reiner chose Thing. On the surface, Thing looked like it’d be just another cheesy teen sex romp. To be sure, a story about a guy who travels cross-country just to get laid didn’t present something one might think would come across as anything other than crass.

However, the film proves to be much better than that. Sure, it occasionally indulges in slightly crude moments, but these definitely don’t abound, and they’re played in a way that makes them seem easily tolerable. These elements seem natural to the story and don’t come across as forced attempts to inject some of the expected elements into the flick.

Really, Thing exists largely as a teen version of It Happened One Night. The movie focuses on the road trip that may or may not bring together the young couple, and it delights in the little touches along the way. Thing often seems at its best when we find small quirky moments. From the showtune-singing drivers to the barflies Gib meets, Thing tosses in many well-developed throwaway pieces that help it fly.

None of that would matter without the chemistry between the leads, and Zuniga and Cusack definitely click in their roles. Zuniga seems especially good as the uptight Alison. She makes the character sufficiently stuffy but makes sure we buy her as a real human being and not just a stereotype. She also allows Alison to develop naturally; as she comes out of her shell, she does so in a believable manner. Zuniga provides a very nice performance that really improves the movie.

Cusack also seems pretty good as Gib, and we can definitely see the easy-going almost-hip-but-still-boy-next-door tone that would serve him well over the years. However, I have to complain a little because at times, Cusack seems to reach for talents he doesn’t have. Parts of the movie force him to engage in broad schtick, such as when Gib begs Alison for tutoring at the swimming pool. It feels like someone told Cusack that Bill Murray was popular so he should act like that. Those occasional moments stand out in a negative way and seem out of place.

My other minor complaint stems from the casting of Sheridan, mostly because she doesn’t stand as much of a contrast to Zuniga. For Gib to have to face a real choice, “the Sure Thing” should be substantially hotter than Alison. It’s okay for Alison to seem attractive, but the Sure Thing should still blow her away in the looks department. Frankly, I always thought Sheridan looked kind of odd, at least with the hair and makeup styles on display here. Physically, I think Zuniga’s more attractive, and this makes it seem like less of a leap when Gib has to confront his options.

But that’s mostly nitpicking, for The Sure Thing gets most of its elements right. A blurb on the DVD’s cover finds a critic who nominates it as “the greatest film ever made”, and I think he must be on the pipe; I’m not sure Thing should make a list of the thousand best flicks, much less be at the top. Nonetheless, it offers a sweet and endearing romantic comedy that manages to offer something different from the era’s usual cheesy teen flicks.

Acting footnote: in the span of just one year, Anthony Edwards went from a role as a total geek in Revenge of the Nerds to his part as wild party boy Lance here. Now that’s range!


The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio B- / Bonus B

The Sure Thing appears in both an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 and in a fullscreen version on this double-sided DVD-14; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Only the letterboxed picture was reviewed for this article. Though easily recognizable as a product of the Eighties, the transfer of The Sure Thing presented a stronger than expected image.

Sharpness mostly looked positive. Wide shots appeared slightly soft throughout the movie, and other parts of the film also occasionally came across as somewhat ill defined, largely due to bouts of edge enhancement. Still, most of the movie appeared appropriately accurate and distinct. I noticed no issues connected to jagged edges or moiré effects, and the movie seemed surprisingly free from defects. Virtually no examples of speckles, grit, or other flaws popped up during the flick.

Many Eighties movies display iffy colors, and Thing demonstrated some of the usual moderate muddiness I associate with the era. However, the hues mostly came across as acceptably dynamic and tight; they could look a bit drab, but they usually were fine. Black levels also seemed slightly tame but they mostly looked dense and solid, while low-light situations demonstrated very good definition and detail. The Sure Thing was a little too loose and occasionally murky to merit a grade above a “B”, but it still seemed better than I expected.

Adapted from the movie’s original monaural soundtrack – which also appears on the DVD – the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix of The Sure Thing opened up the audio slightly. However, the soundfield remained essentially monaural much of the time. Some music spread decently to the sides, and occasional examples of effects also popped up in those speakers. At times, vehicles moved from side to side, and a few other sequences like a rainstorm made acceptable use of the soundfield. Nonetheless, the elements stayed close to the center the vast majority of the time, and surround usage appeared inconsequential most of the time. A few shots used the rear speakers to fair effect, but they popped up infrequently.

Audio quality was generally fine, though the elements showed their age. Speech could be a little dull, and the lines also exhibited some edginess at times. They always remained intelligible and reasonably natural, though. Music lacked great range but was reasonably clear and distinctive. Effects seemed accurate and clean, though they didn’t display a lot of dimensionality. Overall, the soundtrack of The Sure Thing was perfectly solid for this sort of film, but it never became anything more than that.

For their special edition release of The Sure Thing, MGM added a mix of supplements across two sides of this DVD. We open with an audio commentary from director Rob Reiner, who gives us a running, screen-specific piece. The veteran of many tracks, Reiner usually doesn’t do well with the format. Though better than the average Reiner commentary, his discussion of The Sure Thing remains very flawed. Actually, the chat starts well, as Reiner tells us of his discomfort during the casting of “the sure thing” herself, and Reiner later occasionally gives us good notes about the way the actors worked, with a particular emphasis on Cusack’s improvisational style. He also relates thematic connections among many of his movies.

Unfortunately, these highlights appear infrequently. Much of the movie passes without any information from the director, and when he does speak, he often just tells us the names of actors, praises people and film elements, or relates the on-screen action. To be sure, this commentary seems much better than some of Reiner’s worst offenses, but he still comes across as a generally dull and uninformative commentary participant.

Also on Side One, we find a trivia track. This uses the standard “pop-up video” style format and offers information about a wide variety of subjects. Most of the deal with tidbits about the actors and the locations, and we also get details about all of the pop tunes on the soundtrack and their performers. A few other minor notes appear as well, but those subjects dominate the track. That may make it sound somewhat dry, but it actually works nicely. It provides a consistent level of information and rarely slows as it covers the different issues. Text commentaries tend to be hit or miss, but this is a good one.

When we go to Side Two, we get a “retrospective featurette” called The Road to The Sure Thing. The 26-minute and 14-second program provides a combination of movie snippets, archival materials, and new interviews. We hear from Reiner, actors John Cusack, Daphne Zuniga, and Nicollette Sheridan, writers Steven L. Bloom and Jonathan Roberts, producer Roger Birnbaum, former Embassy Pictures executive Lindsay Doran, casting director Jane Jenkins, production designer Lilly Kilvert and casting director Janet Hishenson.

As with Reiner’s commentary, “Road” starts strong but peters out quickly. At the beginning, we learn of the script’s genesis and difficult path to the screen. Once the project gets the green light, however, the featurette becomes less interesting. The remainder covers how Reiner and the main actors joined the project, and we also get some notes about the flick’s legacy. Many of the notes about Reiner and the director already appear in his commentary, and much of the rest consists of little more than praise for Reiner. We find a lot of remarks about his talent and special qualities. Good for him, but this makes “Road” only moderately and sporadically useful.

Next we get another featurette entitled Dressing The Sure Thing. It runs eight minutes, 47 seconds and concentrates on costume designer Durinda Wood and her work. We see short clips from the movie and get notes on what she wanted to do with the characters’ clothes. Since Thing took place in a contemporary setting, one might not think it required a lot of effort to dress people, so it seems fascinating to hear the specifics of her attempts. “Dressing” provides a tight and informative program.

Casting The Sure Thing takes seven minutes, 17 seconds to examine the obvious topic. We hear from casting directors Jenkins and Hishenson as they discuss how they do their job in a general way and go into more specifics about Thing. They mostly skip the obvious notes about the leads, which is good since we’ve already heard those remarks elsewhere. “Casting” covers its subject in an efficient manner and gives us some interesting information.

For the final featurette, Reading The Sure Thing runs five minutes as writer Bloom reads his original story treatment. We see movie segments that generally correspond to Bloom’s writing. This presentation seems a little odd, as I’m not sure why we didn’t get the material in stillframe form, but it’s still cool to hear the tale in its earliest version, especially since it has only a smidgen in common with the final product.

The disc includes a mix of trailers. In addition to the original clip for The Sure Thing itself, we get “Other Great MGM Releases”, which includes ads for The Princess Bride, This Is Spinal Tap, “MGM Means Great Movies”, and “Best of the 1980s”.

Lastly, some hidden menu features show up on side two. You can find these easily; click “up” from the “featurettes” option on the main menu and you’ll highlight a pushpin. You can access a clip there and also move to the right, where you can get into material attached to the three additional pushpins. All four pieces relate to Nicollette Sheridan. She chats about her sarong (26 seconds), the bikini scenes (127 seconds), and a character’s remark about her breast size (17 seconds). We also find a 32-second silent snippet from her audition tape. None of these Easter eggs seems scintillating, but they’re worth a look.

In an age filled with cheap and crude sex comedies, The Sure Thing offered a teen flick that dared to treat matters with a little class and maturity. That’s probably why so many folks still view it fondly 18 years after the fact and also why it remains amusing and likable despite a wide selection of dated fashions and songs. The DVD looks fairly good, and the remixed 5.1 audio seems decent. Despite the presence of yet another generally dull audio commentary from Rob Reiner, the extras mostly explore the film well and offer a reasonable amount of useful information. Sweet and charming, The Sure Thing earns my recommendation via this positive DVD release.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5625 Stars Number of Votes: 32
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