Orange County Register
Should You See?
Friday, July 4, 1986
Compiled by Vem Perry


New movies keep coming but there’s only so much leisure time in the week. “Should You See?” is here to help. This Preview takes a focused look at one film and features a compilation of comments from national film critics and Orange County moviegoers just like you. Each Friday it’ll give you a better idea on whether the movie is worth $5 and two hours of your life. Enjoy!

The film: “Ruthless People.”
Stars: Danny DeVito, Bette Midler, Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater, Anita Morris and Bill Pullman.
Behind the scenes: Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker. Written by Dale Launer.
Playing: In theaters throughout Orange County.
Running Time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.
Rated: R for mature language, nudity and sexual situations.
How it’s doing: Last week, “Ruthless People” was the No. 4 movie in the nation, earning $5.3 million during its opening weekend.


Sam Stone (Danny DeVito) is the filthy rich “Spandex Miniskirt King” who hates his wife Barbara (Bette Midler) with a passion equalled only by his hatred for her pet poodle. The solution? Kill her. But his plans go awry when he arrives home to find she has been kidnapped. Now, he thinks, his problems are over: All he has to do is not pay the ransom and the kidnappers will do her in. Wrong. What Sam doesn’t know is that the two kidnappers (Judge Reinhold and Helen Slatter) don’t really want to kill anyone. All they want is the money Sam stole from them by ripping off Sandy’s miniskirt designs. Another complication comes when Sam’s mistress and her very dumb boyfriend, thinking Sam has done in his wife, plot to blackmail him so they can run off together.


Those ‘golden screw’ print and TV ads for ‘Ruthless I People’ give it away. This, you’d have every right to assume, is gonna be one tasteless, tacky, sophomoric, vulgar enterprise. And you’d be dead right. But if you have a high threshold for tastlessness . . . this new anything-for-a-laugh comedy from the makers of ‘Airplane!’ and ‘Top Secret’ will provide a low-brow good time of the highest order.” ~ Michael Burkett/The Orange County Register

I ”¢ don’t want to oversell ‘Ruthless People’…It’s the kind of movie that sounds a lot funnier than it sometimes plays. It has its arid patches. It also has a uniformly splendid cast of comic actors – the best to be seen outside of any recent Blake Edwards movie. Its screenplay, by the newcomer Dale Launer, is packed with wonderfully vulgar, tasteless lines that perfectly reflect the sensibilities of Sam (Danny DeVito) and Barbara Stone (Bette Midler). . . . ‘Ruthless People’ is a true
farce.” ~ Vincent Canby/New York Times

Take a good, simple idea– the kidnaping of a nagging wife whose husband doesn’t want her back – and add some charismatic casting – Danny DeVito and Bette Midler – and it would take a cinematic clod to turn out a bad picture. Fortunately, the talents behind the camera in ‘Ruthless People’ – the unusual three-man directing team of Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker – are not clods. They proved it with the hellzapoppin’ comedy ‘Airplane,’ and they prove it once again here with a more traditional narrative story.” ~ Gene Siskel/Chicago Tribune

One of the many nice things about ‘Ruthless People’ is that it shows what a top talent Bette Midler has become in movie comedy. In her performance here as a kidnapped wife, she displays marvelous restraint. She holds back that furious energy that used to be out front all the time and creates tingling anticipation. You find yourself caring about her and pulling for her to succeed…. Midler is even better than in her recent smash success ‘Down and Out in Beverly Hills.’ She seems to have grown, almost overnight, into a quietly confident, masterfully sophisticated movie star.” ~ George Williams/McClatchy News Service

AIthough it shares-some thematic ground with John Huston’s savage ‘Prizzi’s Honor,’ ‘Ruthless People’ does not aspire to the same level of sophistication and subtlety. Everything here is more superficial and aimed at the immediate laugh rather than laughter that surfaces from revelation of character. To that end, the directing triumvirate of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker – the team behind “Airplane!” – has chosen stars who can get that laugh by their response to a predicament or a sudden change of fortune.” ~ Desmond Ryan/Knight-Ridder Newspaper


I though it was very good, funny and light. Danny DeVito is great. He has played the same character his entire career and is still extremely good at it. The story was pleasingly farcical. I used to have a wife like the character Bette Midler played.
~ David P. Fefcush, 40, podiatrist, La Mirada

It was very funny, and typical raunchy Bette Midler. I like Bette Midler a lot. I really found it entertaining and I enjoyed’it. The plot was great. The story kept throwing twists at you. I think it was wonderful. ~ Irene Purdom, 33, nurse, Diamond Bar

I thought it was a really funny movie. I like the characters and how everybody got faked out. Bette Midler was the best, she was really, really funny. I loved it, I was laughing the whole time. I’ll recommend it to my friends, I know they’ll like it. ~ Susan Barrett, 14, student, Santa Ana

I thought it was good. It was one of Bette Midler’s best roles, although . . . they could have developed her character a little bit more. I thought that Danny DeVito was really funny. One complaint is that they showed a lot of the gags in the previews so some of them were expected. ~ Darrell Warren, 17, student, Garden Grove

I thought it was interesting. It was really funny. It’s worth paying your money to see. I liked Danny DeVito the best. His red car was rad. I iiked how he was always after his wife’s dog. He hated the dog. ~ Jeff McClintlck, 16, student, Garden Grove

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