In "The Sure Thing," the hero, a college freshman nicknamed Gib (John Cusack), chooses the dumpy, nagging, humorless Alison (Daphne Zuniga) over a luscious, blithely good-natured sexpot (Nicollette Sheridan) who is everything a California blond is supposed to be. Sure thing, guys!

Actually, it's not as simple as that, although it's close. Gib goes off to an eastern college mired in hormonal angst and obsessed with pizza (a well-known sex surrogate); his chum, Lance (Anthony Edwards), enrolled in a Southern California party school, tortures him with snapshots of the region's sweeties (inscribing one, "This is the ugliest girl in Southern California"). One day, Lance calls with an offer of a "sure thing" (Sheridan) guaranteed to rid Gib of his loathed virginity. Go west, young man!

Gib finds a ride on the college bulletin board; lo and behold, he's sharing the back seat with Alison. They already know each other. Earlier in the film, Gib made a pass, Alison was appalled. Once in the car, said appall returns with regard to his eating habits, his drinking habits and his philosophy of life ("D'j'ever do something really spontaneous?"). The driver tires of their bickering and gets rid of them in the middle of a lonesome highway.

We, however, are stuck with them. As they hitchhike cross-country, Gib wheedles, tells jokes, indoctrinates Alison in the pleasures of fried pork rinds and the technique of "shotgunning" beer and overall makes a heroic effort to seduce her with a demonstration of what a heckuva guy he is. He teaches her to loosen up and have fun; she teaches him . . . what?

That's the problem with "The Sure Thing." All the good lines are given to Cusack -- he's always "on," narrating his own life in the revved-up spiel of a sports announcer. For Cusack's Gib, life is performance -- his long quill of a nose even seems to look for his audience's ticklish spots. But why would he bother with Alison? Screenwriters Steven L. Bloom and Jonathan Roberts have sketched her as an annoying scold, leaving Zuniga little to do but bray disapproval at everything. Watching her curl her big mouth in disgust, her nose flaring down like a Hoover upright to suck the excitement out of everything, you start to believe that love is, indeed, blind.

There is, of course, a certain logic at work here -- Cusack is wrapped up in himself, so he chooses Zuniga because then, it must be love. This kind of self-centered masochism is familiar enough in adolescence, but is it something to celebrate? Director Rob Reiner is obviously reacting against the prolific perversity of the teen sex comedy, but his instincts run to satire ("This Is Spinal Tap"). Rob, your fans demand . . . "Vegetable House"!

The Sure Thing, opening today at area theaters, is rated PG-13 and contains sexual themes.