BootLeg Betty

BetteBack July 6, 1986: Ruthless People Full Of BellyLaughs

Paris News
July 6, 1986

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For anyone wondering if directors Jim Abrahams, Jerry Zucker and David Zucker just lucked out with Airplane! in 1980, their new film Ruthless People is a happy revelation.

No, it’s not the same series of zany gags spoofing a particular film genre. And it doesn’t boast all those great B actors from the 1950s.

But it is wonderfully and satisfyingly zany — and that alone makes it a winner in my book.

Showcasing a terrific cast, Ruthless People has its share of bad taste, including one scene in which Danny DeVito sets a Doberman on his wife’s poodle and another in which a call girl very much in action literally spills out of
a car window.

However, the film’s pace is so fast and the cast so consistently “on” that Ruthless People almost makes you forget some of the tastelessness. With this one, you can revel in the humor, especially when the characters become caught up in a kidnapping plot gone awry.

Sam Stone (DeVito) is an unhappy, pint-sized, thoroughly loathsome businessman who, having married his beefy, foul-talking, shrewish wife (Bette Midler) for her money, is ecstatic to discover she’s been kidnapped.

Not only does he refuse to pay the ransom, he does everything to irritate her young kidnappers ( J u d g e R e i n h o l d . Helen ‘ ‘Supergirl” Slater), themselves two nice people pushed to the limit — ironically, by Stone’s business tactics.

Along the way, a blackmail scheme is brought in, though even this goes awry when the chief of police thinks he’s the one being blackmailed. Other subplots include Stone’s attempts to shoot, poison and massacre his wife’s irksome pooch.

Don’t look for much character development in this flick, except for Midler’s character (and that’s strictly for plot purposes).

Reinhold is his usual compassionate, sensible self, and Helen Slater is downright touching as his weepy-eyed, imid, fellow kidnapper.

However, the spotlight really falls most of the time on DeVito, formerly of Taxi and Romancing the Stone and seen here at his most evil (“I guess I’m going to have to wait a while to get the straight romantic leads,” DeVito said prior to the film’s release).

Midler doesn’t have much to do in the flick until about halfway through, when her shackled, shrewish wife character overdoses on daytime weight loss shows. She has some funny moments, though she’s best when she gets loose and finally gets her hands on DeVito.

Along the way, there are plenty of the touches that distinguished Airplane!, particularly in terms of timing. All in all, Ruthless People is almost guaranteed to give you a hearty share of chuckles, if not outright bellylaughs.

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