According to Ben Stein, whose one-off performance as a droning high-school teacher ("Bueller… Bueller…") brought him a narrow sort of immortality, Ferris Bueller's Day Off "is to comedies what Gone With The Wind is to epics." He goes on to call director John Hughes "an extraordinary genius," evokes Thomas Jefferson's principles about the pursuit of happiness, and likens the title character to—we shit you not—Jesus Christ, because both of them spread liberty without hurting anyone. Given such bizarre hyperbole, which crops up in a featurette on the new Ferris Bueller special-edition DVD, the film couldn't possibly live up to its billing, but even with lower expectations than Stein's, it's remarkable how poorly this and other Hughes comedies have aged since their '80s heyday. Maybe that's because Hughes, who seemed to have his finger on the adolescent pulse throughout the decade, now seems more like an outsider who knew how to pander to pimple-faced narcissists.
In that sense, Ferris Bueller may be his most shrewdly calculated fantasy this side of The Breakfast Club: Here, the standard teen hang-ups (clueless and/or hostile parents, worry about the future, hatred of school, etc.) are relieved by a skip day that even Jefferson might have found excessive. Instead of spending the day with his stomach in knots, fearful of getting caught, Matthew Broderick's Ferris is something of a teenage superhero: serenely self-confident, always the cleverest guy in the room, and concerned about nothing more than having a good time. Alan Ruck plays his neurotic opposite and best friend, though it's hard to tell whether they're actually close, or Broderick has always just terrorized Ruck into going along with him. Whatever the case, the two of them and Broderick's girlfriend (Mia Sara) journey from the Chicago suburbs into the city for an afternoon tour with several touristy pit-stops.
Ferris Bueller is a touchstone for those who came of age in the '80s, and it holds a certain appeal as Gen X couch-potato comfort food—it's engaging without ever being all that funny. Most of the material not involving Ferris and friends falls flat, including the pouty vindictiveness of Broderick's sister (Jennifer Grey) and Jeffrey Jones' Wile E. Coyote bit as the school principal, which predicted the aggressive slapstick of Hughes' Home Alone series. That only leaves some fun Chicago destinations worth asking your travel agent about, and that annoying "Oh yeah" music cue by Yello.
Key features: A few insubstantial featurettes have been added, but this special edition has removed the Hughes commentary available on the old DVD. How generous.