Reviewed June 24th, 2002 by David Nusair
Comedies are a dying genre. Aside from Adam Sandler flicks and the various kiddie laugh-a-thons that pop up now and then (including the recent suckfest Scooby Doo), trying to find a comedy geared towards adults is just about impossible. What a pleasure it was, then, to revisit Ruthless People on DVD; a hilarious comedy thatís in no way appropriate for little children.
As the film opens, cut-throat businessman Sam Stone (played with ruthless glee by Danny DeVito) is telling his mistress how much he hates his wife and how he plans to kill her that same night. Upon arriving home and with every intention of doing the dastardly deed, he receives a phone call informing him that his wife has been kidnapped. Heís told in no uncertain terms that she will be killed if he doesnít pay a ransom or if he notifies the police or media. Try and guess what he does. Meanwhile, Samís mistress (played by Anita Baker) and her idiotic boyfriend (Bill Pullman, in an early role) are planning to film Samís supposed murder of his wife and blackmail him with the tape. Needless to say, when they arrive at the murder site, Samís not there Ė but someone else is. Meanwhile (yep, again. Thereís a lot of stuff going on here), the two kidnappers (Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater) are becoming exasperated by Samís antics and by his wifeís refusal to co-operate with them.
Ruthless People was directed by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker (or ZAZ for short), the same guys behind Airplane! and The Naked Gun. Though they didnít write the film, ZAZís irreverent style is certainly hard to miss. One of the funniest gags in the film occurs when Sam learns that his wife has been kidnapped. DeVitoís face initially shows an expression of confusion, which slowly turns into a look of all-out happiness as he begins to put things together. The film is comprised of similar jokes that work just as well, mostly due to the deft comedic timing among the actors and ZAZ.
And while Iím on the subject of the actors, not a single person is miscast here. Even Bette Midler, playing Samís wife, manages to shed her outrageous and larger-than-life persona for this initially dumpy and overweight housefrau type. And while Reinhold and Pullman are very good, the movie belongs to DeVito. Heís always excelled at playing folks with loose morals and the character of Sam fits DeVito like a tailor-made glove. The somewhat conventional ending ensures that Sam wonít be walking happily into the sunset, but itís certainly appropriate that such a scummy character winds up as he does.
Really, though, this is a movie that lives or dies on the strength of itís jokes. And luckily, a large number of Ruthless Peopleís jokes work and work well. When it comes to making a successful comedy, thatís all that really matters.
Audio: Ruthless People is presented with a dolby surround 2.0 channel soundtrack. Not surprisingly, itís nothing special. You can hear the dialogue just fine, but thatís about the extent of it.
Video: Slightly better is the anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 transfer. Though it clearly hasnít been cleaned up or remastered, it does look fairly good. Itís not sharp at all, but itís definitely an improvement over the videotape. And hey, at least itís anamorphic!
Conclusion: Ruthless People is a hilarious comedy thatís worth owning, since itís priced nice and cheap. Donít miss it.
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