RUTHLESS PEOPLE - Things Couldn't Have Gone More Wrong
Ruthless People is a hilariously dark and twisted film about hilariously dark and twisted people.
Realease Date: June 27th, 1986
Date of My First Viewing: September 10th, 2019
Sometimes it pays to be mean. Sometimes it pays to be ruthless. That’s kind of the point in Ruthless People, the 1986 black comedy from Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker. The three directors, who were known up until that point for their work on Kentucky Fried Movie and Airplane!, lend their understanding of twisted comedy to the twisted plot at work in the film. The directors take a tangled web of crime, misunderstandings, and generally detestable people and present a highly entertaining and hilarious film.
Even though I adore the work of Abrahams, Zucker, and Zucker when it comes to Airplane! and The Naked Gun, it took me until very recently to be aware that they also directed this film. I knew of its existence but never really explored what it was about. Just by the title, I knew it had to deal with some less than stellar individuals, and I was delighted to find out that was definitely the case. This is my kind of movie as I can rather enjoy films about horrible people living up to horrible standards.
Ruthless People is just about that, for the most part. The main element of the plot involves the slimy Sam Stone (Danny DeVito) plotting to kill his wife Barbara (Bette Middler) so he can control her family fortune and take off with his mistress Carol (Anita Morris). It turns out, though, Barbara gets kidnapped by Ken (Judge Reinhold) and Sandy (Helen Slater), a couple who wants revenge on Sam for screwing them over in a business deal regarding Sandy’s fashion designs. Sam takes this as a blessing and refuses to follow through with the ransom demands all while his mistress and her dim-witted boyfriend Earl (Bill Pullman) plot to blackmail Sam.
Through Earl’s own ineptitude and other misunderstandings, things get incredibly convoluted for everyone involved in this situation. Barbara, Ken, and Sandy start off on very rocky terms, naturally, but they eventually come to understand all three share a common enemy. There’s also a case of a serial killer on the loose and a particular video tape that, well, I don’t want to give away too much.
The beauty of Ruthless People is watching everyone’s plans go to hell in hilarious ways. Sam thinks he’s on easy street now that someone will, eventually, “take care” of his wife but his world eventually gets turned upside down. DeVito is a natural at playing slimy characters, and I’m certain this review isn’t the first to mention how Sam Stone had to have been a foundation point for the character of Frank Reynolds in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It’s wonderful to see him go from glee to, well, something that’s the complete opposite of glee by the time the movie ends.
The rest of the cast is also quite strong. Bette Middler initially makes Barbara just as detestable as Sam, but that changes over time as she bonds with Ken and Sandy. Judge Reinhold and Sandy Kessler are great at playing two regular people in way over their heads when it comes to kidnapping and ransom. Reinhold, in particular, has some delightfully hilarious scenes as he tries to exert control in situations but it’s all a ruse. Then you have the case of Bill Pullman as Earl, who steals pretty much every scene he has with some great comedic buffoonery.
One other thing I really liked about Ruthless People is the production design on Sam and Barbara’s house. It is just the epitome of what a gaudy mid 80’s house in the Hollywood Hills would look like, and, man, I want that aesthetic pumped right into my veins. The bright colors and crazy design style were a wonderful contrast with the dark and moody office that Sam resides in throughout the film.
As with many of these reviews, I’m not breaking any new grounds with an analysis of a movie that got released in 1986. That being said, I am glad I found the time to watch this and was entertained, for the most part, during its 93 minutes of run time. It’s a wickedly funny film populated with funny people in its cast and funny people at its helm. This, frankly, could have been a disaster when you think about it, but Ruthless People is a comedic gem that still holds up in 2019.