MOVIE REVIEW | Ruthless People (1986)

“I had to live with that squealing, corpulent little toad all these years. God, I hate that woman.”

Danny DeVito, Bette Midler and Judge Reinhold…  Three people you don’t see on the big screen all that much these days.  The last major roles I can see them for them on IMDB are Be Cool in 2005 for DeVito, The Stepford Wives for Midler in 2004, and The Santa Clause 3 for Reinhold in 2006.  But in the 80s, these were three marquee names for comedy, three people who were signs that you were more than likely about to see something really funny.  Movies like Romancing the Stone, Outrageous Fortune and Beverly Hills Cop.  I wish we saw this trio more often in the big screen in 2015.  Because I miss movies like Ruthless People.

15 years ago, Sam Stone (Danny DeVito) thought he had found his meal ticket by marrying the daughter (Bette Midler as Barbara) of his near dead, very rich boss.  But his boss lived on and Sam was forced to make his ow fortune.  Now, the old man has finally died and Sam thinks getting his hands on his wife’s enormous inheritance is fair compensation for enduring his miserable marriage.  Along with his mistress, Carol (Anita Morris), Sam plans the perfect murder.  But on the day he plans to follow through on the killing, he’s delighted to come home and find Barbara kidnapped.

It turns out that part of Sam’s own fortune was made by ripping off a fashion design from Sandy Kessler (Helen Slater).  So Sandy and her husband Ken (Judge Reinhold) have kidnapped Barbara, and demand a half million dollar ransom from Sam.  Thinking all the hard work has been done for him, Sam is happy to let the kidnappers kill his wife.  But things get complicated when the police become involved, and when it turns out that Sam’s mistress is running her own scam, along with her boyfriend, Earl (Bill Pullman).

Ruthless People is pure screwball.  There are a million balls in the air at all times, double crosses abound and no single character ever has a complete view of just how complicated the big picture really is.  Misunderstandings, lies (intentional and unintentional), and plot convenient coincidences mount up until the movie almost crumbles underneath the weight of all the extreme farce.  Almost.  Because for what looks on the surface to be a silly little comedy, Ruthless People does a great job of holding itself together just enough to be funny, without being ridiculous or dumb.

Milking everything it possibly can from its title, the cast of characters multiplies to become are fairly large ensemble, and the title could relate to each and every one of them.  By the end, there are clearly defined goodies and baddies, but the real fun of Ruthless People is in the first act, when it’s a bunch of just real assholes, all doing their best to screw each other over, and all suffering for it.

Ruthless People
Directed By – Jim AbrahamsDavid Zucker, Jerry Zucker
Written By – Dale Launer

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