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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Retro Review: Ruthless People (1986)

Ruthless People
Cast: Bette Midler, Danny Devito, Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater, Bill Pullman 
Genre: Black comedy  
U.S Box Office Gross: $71 million

Plot: A couple cheated by a vile businessman, kidnap his wife in retaliation, without knowing that their enemy is delighted they did


'Hilarious Dark '80s Satire Courtesy of the Zucker Bros.'

I first remembered when I watched Ruthless People for the first time in my teens when it aired on TV in the 1990s, I was in hysterics at how riotously funny this was. 

This is one of those classic movies that still remains a huge favourite of mine: it is dark, sick, twisted, but still amusing to boot too. This film is a laugh-a-riot. Pint-sized Danny Devito always turns on the charm whenever he plays antagonist characters: whether be it in Batman Returns, Romancing the Stone or this film, Ruthless People, he has that personality and ability to make it all the more believable. His character Sam Stone is obnoxious, self-centred, low-class - no make that no class millionaire who doesn't give a damn, hates Muffy, Barbara's pet dog. Oh and he also despises his wife, Barbara so much so he wants her dead. Gone. Finito. So much so that you can't really empathise with him because Sam is such a heinous person.  

The irony of the film's plot is all the more unbelievable & crazy: Sam hates Barbara and wants her dead for good. She gets kidnapped by two, so-called bumbling kidnappers: a young couple played by Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater and they want a ransom in return for her release. From their point of view, one could argue they are less ruthless compared to Sam, Sam's mistress and her boyfriend. They - as in Ken & Sandy, the kidnappers still hold a grudge against Sam over a dress design of theirs that he stole and profited from, that they kidnap his wife, Barbara to exact their revenge. But Sam doesn't care and tries to string them all along, as long as he can. He sees the kidnapping threat as a safe haven in getting rid of Barbara, as well as getting hold of her fortune. There is only one problem, however: these 'kidnappers' who claim themselves to be 'ruthless' are really a pair of softies at heart. When they threaten to kill Barbara, they actually don't. Meanwhile, Sam has an affair with a Red-head, of whom she & her dopey, bleach-blond boyfriend (Bill Pullman) intend to frame and blackmail, with the help of another dopey guy, make that a bent cop and a dodgy videotape.  

Bette Midler's role as the hostage is arguably the funniest I have seen of hers: her attempts at evading a kidnapping scheme and at trying to get out of the house, go as far as using an electric whisk & trying to grab Ken by the balls, literately! In fact, she lands several blows to Judge Reinhold's Ken's crotch! She puts her trust in Sam to help bail her out, but when she discovers what a dirt-bag he really is, later turns the tables on him. Barbara is lesser of the two evils compared to Sam, though her mouth is still as big as Sam's & is as abrasive. 

The plot and plot twists get funnier and interesting when Sam refuses to pay the ransom and the kidnappers and Barbara, as well as Sam's mistress and her boyfriend scheme and double-cross one another. 

There are a few raunchy scenes, one including a bent cop, some cursing and usage of the F-word and as a Zucker bros movie, the humour and farce are very over-the-top and outrageous but funny. 

What makes this movie work is the interactions between the characters and how they interconnect and cross with each other, thanks to the excellent casting. This makes for all the humourous dialogue and banter, all culminating in the ransom drop scene towards the end of the movie. 

Ruthless People was one of the few 1980s movies that dared to be different from all the other comedy movies that came out during this decade. Danny Devito and Bette Midler are a class act and pretty much stole the show, with a great supporting cast that includes Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater. 

This offbeat, dark farce by the Zucker Bros. doesn't feature one dull moment throughout & there is always something funny or interesting that is happening, whether that is a piece of dialogue or a visual scene. It's a huge departure from Airplane!Top Secret!, as well as the Naked Gun movies later on, as Ruthless People is more plot-driven. The ending was terrific and I'm glad all the characters got what they deserved, especially Sam! Ultimately, the so-called bad guys are really the good guys and so-called, good guys are really the bad guys. But for the police, that is. 

Final Verdict:
It has a funny and wacky premise that is executed in dark comedy fashion, with slapstick and comedy setpieces, which are always on point when they are executed. 

If you still haven't seen Ruthless People yet, do it already: understandably, this is an underrated and at times excellent - yet overlooked comedy that deserves so many views. 


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