March 1, 1985 | The Sure Thing is a nice, sweet-natured, generally unremarkable movie that’s as comfy-cozy and satisfying as a warm bath. The biggest surprise is that it comes to us from Rob Reiner, director of last year’s audacious and inventive This is Spinal Tap, a spoof of “rockumentaries.” Reiner, the erstwhile Meathead of TV’s All in the Family, has returned to his sitcom roots for his second feature, a predictable romantic comedy. He takes no big risks in Sure Thing. But, to give him proper credit, he makes no big mistakes, either.
Yet another coming-of-age story, Sure Thing is a tale of attracted and attractive opposites. Walter “Gib” Gibson, something of a minor-league make-out artist during his high school days, finds himself in a slump during his freshman year at an Ivy League college. So when his best friend invites him to visit California during Christmas break, for a chance to meet a blonde described as “a sure thing,” Gib checks the campus bulletin board for a ride to the West Coast. Naturally, he winds up making the journey with Alison Bradbury, a preppy, proper young lady who shares an English class and little else with Gib. Just as naturally, Alison winds up preferring the often raucous but basically sensitive Gib to her straight-laced, law school-bound boyfriend in L.A.
Call this an undergraduate version of It Happened One Night and you won’t be far off the mark. Reiner and his scriptwriters maneuver the bumpy road to true love with tact and good taste, veering away from the gross-out humor and leering lewdness that often characterize movies aimed at the youth market. Better still, the filmmakers ring some interesting changes on the conventions of the coming-of-age genre. Our hero, Gib, isn’t a virgin, and he doesn’t get to make love to the girl of his dreams. (He’s not really much of a hellraiser, despite his ravenous appetite for beer and junk food.) Our heroine, Alison, appears to be more sexually experienced than her leading man. And the party animals celebrated in movies like Porky’s (and even Animal House) are made to seem pretty foolish here.
As Gib, John Cusack makes an agreeable impression, even though he sounds a bit too much like an ersatz Bill Murray during some comic monologues. He is most convincing, and endearing, when he is at his klutziest around co-star Daphne Zuniga, who plays Alison. Zuniga, the high-school newspaper reporter in Vision Quest, hits the right balance of buttoned-down propriety and small- scale rebellion, making Alison a conventional young woman who’d like to consider herself a spontaneous free spirit. (“On a tour of Graceland,” she says, “I passed out in Elvis’ bedroom.”)
Anthony Edwards, last seen in Revenge of the Nerds, has some funny moments as Lance, Gib’s determinedly hedonistic best friend. (He dismisses Ivy League colleges as havens for “those ugly intellectual girls who have Band-Aids on their knees from playing the cello.”) As the beautiful but vacuous sure thing of the title, newcomer Nicollette Sheridan has little to do but look great in a bikini. She does.
Basically, The Sure Thing is an old-fashioned morality play, cautioning against the evils of sex without love. It’s also a cross-country road movie, though not an especially credible one. (The Midwest looks mighty green during what is supposedly late December.) If it’s a hit, it will be because real-life Alisons are flocking to see it with their boyfriends. Real-life Gibs probably won’t go -- they’ll stay home and wait for the next Porky’s sequel.