Movie Review: Ruthless People (1986)

Title: Ruthless People
Release Date: June 27, 1986
Director: Jim Abrahams | David Zucker | Jerry Zucker
Production Company: Touchstone Films | Silver Screen Partners II

After becoming known for their spoof comedy movies like Airplane! and Top Secret! and the tv show Police Squad!, the team of Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker made a more straightforward black comedy with Ruthless People.  I remember seeing this at the movie theater and then countless times on tv.  But a lot of comedies I loved from the 70s & 80s have aged poorly with cringy jokes based on race, gender, and sexuality that just don’t seem funny .  While Ruthless People is not the laugh riot I recall it being, it does hold up well as a well-crafted and well-acted comedy.

Fashion mogul Sam Stone (Danny DeVito) plans to murder his wife Barbara (Bette Midler), but before he carry out his plot she is abducted.  Her kidnappers are Ken (Judge Reinhold) and Sandy (Helen Slater), a sweet couple who want to hold Barbara for ransom in revenge for Sam stealing Sandy’s fashion designs.  Sam is perfectly happy by the turn of events, deliberately disobeying Ken’s demands in hopes that they will kill Barbara.  Meanwhile, Sam’s mistress Carol (Anita Morris) also attempts to blackmail Sam for Barbara’s murder with the help of her extremely dim boyfriend Earl (Bill Pullman).

I’m impressed by how well all the pieces fit together in this movie and build up to the comic finale.  While the movie has a crude and raunchy edge, it is tender-hearted in it’s center.  After all, the only truly ruthless person is Sam who gets his comeuppance while the other characters find unity and purpose.

Rating: ***1/2

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