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Romantic Road Trip Movies: The Sure Thing Review

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Gib (Cusack) enjoys multiple daydreams involving his exploits with dream girl Nicollette Sheridan throughout the film.
Photo: Embassy Pictures

Wait, isn’t this that critical bomb from 2002 starring Cameron Diaz?

No, This was released solidly, and proudly, in the middle of the 1980s. It’s about a recent high school graduate who’s travelling across America to hook up with a guaranteed hot-and-easy time, only to find true love with a more conservative girl.

Wait, isn’t that the plot to 2008’s raunchy teen comedy, Sex Drive?

Somewhat, and we’ll get to that later, but maybe some context would help.

The Sure Thing was based on a true experience writer Steven L. Bloom had in college. And this film was John Cusack’s first leading role. Although it grossed more at the box office than his other (inferior) hits that year combined (Better Off Dead and The Ballad of Natty Gann), it’s one of his least-remembered entries in his iconic 1980s repertoire. As icing on the cake, The Sure Thing was directed by Rob Reiner following his breakout classic This Is Spinal Tap and was immediately succeeded by his other hits, Stand By Me and The Princess Bride.

Sounds like the perfect setup, doesn’t it? That’s why this clever, off-beat romp is nearly the perfect romantic comedy. In this The Sure Thing review, we’ll discuss what makes it worth watching.

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Our main characters attempt multiple ways to attract a ride, including faking pregnancy.
Photo: Embassy Pictures

The Plot

Walter “Gib” Gibson (Cusack) was a sexual champion in high school but is losing his touch with women as he enters college life. Seemingly the only male at his New England college who isn’t hooking up with someone, Gib’s desperate for some action. His best friend Lance (Anthony Edwards), attending UCLA, takes pity on Gib and arranges a gorgeous blonde to hook up with his friend over Christmas. The only catch is that Gib has to find a way to California before December 22.

Our hormonal hero hops aboard a carpool opportunity via a ride share board with two happy-go-lucky drivers… and an obsessively-restrained, overly-proper girl from Gib’s English class (Daphne Zuniga). “Spontaneity has its time and place,” is Alison Bradbury’s motto, who is also on her way to UCLA to visit her pre-law boyfriend. After a failed tutoring effort, the two already don’t get along.  Their bickering quickly leaves them on the side of the road to fend for themselves.

As they hitchhike across America, Gib and Alison encounter repeated obstacles, such as lack of funds, weather, creepy strangers, and awkward sleeping arrangements.

Eventually, they both arrive at UCLA for their “perfect matches” they were looking for… but, as anyone would expect, their feelings for each other make them reconsider what real relationships are about.

The Vehicle(s)

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The happy-go-lucky owners of the 1967 Volvo 122 S Station Wagon eject the bickering, trouble-making Gib and Alison onto the side of the road.
Photo: Embassy Pictures

The trip across America begins with a departure from Gib’s New England college via shared ride: a baby blue 1967 Volvo 122 S Station Wagon with a “I [heart] E.T.” bumper sticker. Like the couple driving the van (Gary and Amy), the Volvo’s happy-go-lucky attitude is old-fashioned, though its passenger room and cargo space make it an ideal ride-sharing vehicle.

This is Gib’s first step toward pursuing his “sure thing” and also how he and Alison end up on the road together, even though they hate each other. The car ride in the Volvo Station Wagon may be brief but it quickly establishes the main characters’ conflicting perspectives on life and letting loose.

Shared rides might be a thing of the past, but this memory evokes more nostalgia than a failed plane trip or bus ride would have. And who doesn’t love Tim Robbins singing showtunes?

Other vehicles include a 1977 Chevrolet K-10, driven by a man who can’t keep his hands to himself, and an International Harvester Transtar 4300, with a driver intent on getting Gib to his no-strings-attached sex.

Our The Sure Thing Review

Although the style and context of The Sure Thing are painfully dated (just watch those opening titles), the jokes are timeless. Just because sex is the motivator for the main character doesn’t mean it’s the punchline of every joke. The material is done with sharp wit and wise-cracking intelligence. Really, it’s more like It Happened One Night than Sex Drive.

And that’s the problem with vulgar “teen comedies” that treat sex as the end-all-be-all of humor and relationships. None of the romances feel genuine because they’re only felt with reproductive hormones. How sad is it when Hollywood reduces intense, real teenage emotions to uncontrollable, manic lust? The Sure Thing gained acclaim because is was so different than the crass, juvenile Porkys and treated the characters as real, thoughtful teenagers.

It reminds us in our hyper-sexualized society that true love, even apart from sexual infatuation, is rare and meaningful. The filmmakers refrained from making Alison especially attractive or nerdy, and they refrained from forcing the main characters to actually sleep together to realize they love each other. Clearly, the film knows where its heart is.

Cusack does chew the scenery in his wackiness at times, like an early Nicholas Cage, and the third act plods along as the romantic leads take forever to decide their feelings. But The Sure Thing reminds us that life is the ultimate experience.

Based on our The Sure Thing review, you should check it out as soon as possible. It’s guaranteed to be a ride that both male and female viewers will enjoy.

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Gary Cooper (“The Gary Cooper that isn’t dead”) and Mary Ann Weber (Tim Robbins and Lisa Jane Perkins, respectively) sing some showtunes.
Photo: Embassy Pictures