Tuesday, 5 June 2012

FILM REVIEW

Ruthless People (1986)

Ruthless People is my contribution to Tuesday’s Overlooked/Forgotten films and television over at Todd Mason’s blog Sweet Freedom. Don't forget to check out the other fascinating entries over there.

Sam Stone's wife has just been kidnapped... And he doesn't want her back!

Individually, they are funny. Together, they are a riot. 

Danny DeVito and Bette Midler are absolutely in their element in Ruthless People where they play husband and wife, Sam and Barbara Stone, who are caught in a marriage that’s cracking rather than crackling.


Sam marries Barbara for money and then one day decides to kill her. He confides his evil plan to his mistress Carol Dodsworth (Anita Morris) who has an agenda of her own — she asks boyfriend Earl Mott (Bill Pullman in a debut role) to catch Sam getting rid of his wife’s body on videotape, so she can blackmail him for more money than he spends on her.

Sam Stone: I had to live with that squealing, corpulent little toad all these years. God, I hate that woman. I...I...I...hate the way she licks stamps! I hate her furniture! And I hate that little sound she makes when she sleeps. 

When Sam, an apparel manufacturer, is about to put his plan into action, a mysterious caller rings up to inform him that his wife has been kidnapped and that she would be killed if he went to the police.

 
Sam Stone can’t believe his ears: someone else is going to do his dirty work and the magic of it is that he doesn’t have to go to jail and he inherits all her father’s wealth too. All he has to do is take the ransom call when it comes and refuse to pay — he wants his wife dead anyway. He clicks his heels with excitement and reaches for the champagne.

“Bye-bye, Barbara!”

Enter Ken Kessler (Judge Reinhold) and his timid wife Sandy Kessler (Helen ‘Supergirl’ Slater), a fairly innocent and well-meaning couple out for revenge against Sam who stole their idea for a garment and made money out of it. Ken and Sandy kidnap Barbara and keep her in their basement with only a small television set for company. (
Eventually, her "imprisonment" turns out to be a boon as Barbara watches aerobics on the TV and begins to practice it in the basement and loses a lot of weight, much to the delight of her "captor" Sandy who helps her try on clothes that wouldn't fit earlier.) 


What the poor couple don’t realise is that Barbara is more than a handful as she terrorises Sandy every time she goes below and pokes fun at Ken over his manliness or the lack of it (we are talking about Reinhold here. Remember him as the bumbling cop in Beverly Hills Cop?).

Barbara Stone is street smart and instantly sizes up her kidnappers for a pair of novices who would probably buckle at the knees if someone booed them from behind the curtain.
 


“My husband worships the ground I walk on! When he hears about this, 
he will EXPLODE!” 

This one is even better… 

Barbara: YOU'VE FUCKED WITH THE WRONG PERSON! My husband does business with the Mafia! When they track you down, you, your entire family, everyone you ever KNEW will all get chainsaw enemas!

She doesn’t know that Sam Stone won’t pay because he wants her out of the way. When Sandy tells her as much, she is shocked and bursts into tears. 

Barbara: So, when do I get out of here? 
Sandy: As soon as Mr. Stone pays the ransom. 
Barbara: What's the problem? What is the ransom? 
Sandy: Well, we asked for $500,000. 
Barbara: That should be no problem. 
Sandy: He wouldn't pay. 
Barbara: He wouldn't pay? 
Sandy: Then we asked him for $50,000. 
Barbara: Yeah? 
Sandy: He still wouldn't pay. So now we're lowering our price to $10,000. 
Barbara (crying): Do I understand this correctly? I'm being marked down? I've been kidnapped by K-Mart! 

When Barbara realises that Sam has dumped her, she becomes a willing accomplice in her own kidnapping! She joins hands with Ken and Sandy to teach Sam a lesson he will not forget in a hurry.
 


There’s plenty of funny stuff but I’m not going to spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen Ruthless People which is directed by slapstick filmmakers Jim Abrahams and brothers David and Jerry Zucker.

The diminutive Danny DeVito and Bette Midler — with a combined stature of just 10’ 1” between them — are absolutely hilarious as Sam and Barbara, which is not surprising as both are very natural and hugely gifted actors. DeVito and Midler don’t need to move around much, their wide variety of facial expressions is enough to see their characters through. If you love comedies as I do, Ruthless People gets a top-notch recommendation. Don’t miss it. Especially, don’t miss the end.


Incidentally, Danny DeVito and Bette Midler have a few things in common. They are both very short (he’s 5’, she’s 5’1”), both were born a year apart (he in 1944, she in 1945), both married actors and around the same time (he in 1982, she in 1984), and both are still married to the same people (he for 30 years, she for 28 years).

12 comments:

  1. Nice one Prashant - I'm old enough to have seen this when it came out at the cinema (sigh ...) and laughed a lot then. Admittedly I haven't seen it since, so thanks for the reminder. I'd forgotten about the bad language though (:)) Incidentally, it was written by Dale Launer who went on to do DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS (a remake of a 60s caper called BEDTIME STORY) that is perhaps even funnier and well worth looking at if you haven't already.

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  2. Don't think I ever saw it. I hardly ever watch comedies

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  3. I saw and enjoyed it too. Maybe it ranks as one of each of their best films.

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  4. This is one of those movies I saw and never forgot. Midler could be so wildly entertaining whether acting or singing. Don't know what she's doing these days. Probably counting her money. Thanks for the clips from the dialogue.

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  5. Another Dawson Family classic!

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  6. Thanks, Sergio. I watch this film every time they screen it on television. I have seen DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS on more than one occasion, never miss a Caine or Martin film. There are a couple of films each by DeVito and Midler I also like — TWINS and RENAISSANCE MAN, and OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE (with Shelly Long) and BIG BUSINESS (with Lily Tomlin) in which Midler is at her entertaining best.

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  7. Charles, I love comedies in whatever form they come, a habit my father inculcated in me when I was very young.

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  8. Patti, yes, I'd think so too, definitely DeVito's; though, Midler was equally good in OUTRAGEOUS FORTUNE and BIG BUSINESS. This film, however, takes the honours for sheer comic timing.

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  9. You are welcome, Ron. I wish DeVito and Midler had acted in more films together. They make quite a pair. The dialogues are hilarious throughout the film. I don't think I have heard Midler sing though I know she is a singer too.

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  10. iluvcinema, thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. A very entertaining film it is.

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