Clocking in at a whopping ninety minutes, Ruthless People feels a tad undercooked. Lots of trailer-ready sequences, lots of memorable moments, nothing to really connect them. The ZAZ directing team (it’s probably been sixteen years since I’ve thought about them) is adequate, but they don’t really direct actors very well here, so the casting goes a long way (Bill Pullman suffers the most, having the easiest character to play and most of his scenes fall flat).
Danny DeVito is great–turning in a performance so good I thought about renting Twins–but he’s not really getting any help from the directors and the script just plays him as a jerk, so DeVito isn’t really doing anything very difficult. Weight loss figures greatly in to the story–it saves kidnappers Helen Slater and Judge Reinhold from doing jail time–as Bette Midler loses twenty pounds in four days and has the Stockholm syndrome going in full effect.
The movie’s mostly missed opportunities–not counting the cartoon relationship between DeVito and Midler, which is mostly implied–particularly Reinhold and Slater’s touching love story… also implied. They’re the down-on-their-luck young couple who made a big mistake and haven’t been able to recover. There’s a lot of possibility (especially with a Michel Colombier score), but it doesn’t go anywhere.
Thanks to all the problems–the directors and the writer (I have no idea if the abbreviated storytelling is the script or the direction, but it’s unfair to put it all on the directors)–the most amusing parts of Ruthless People are the two cops, played by Art Evans and Clarence Felder, who are enduring all the defects along with the audience. A mix approach–the kidnappers, the cops, the husband–required traditional storytelling in Ruthless People….
Instead, the directors just made an unfilling mess.
Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker; written by Dale Launer, based on a story by O. Henry; director of photography, Jan de Bont; edited by Gib Jaffe and Arthur Schmidt; music by Michel Colombier; produced by Michael Peyser; released by Touchstone Films.
Starring Danny DeVito (Sam Stone), Bette Midler (Barbara Stone), Judge Reinhold (Ken Kessler), Helen Slater (Sandy Kessler), Anita Morris (Carol Dodsworth), Bill Pullman (Earl Mott), William G. Schilling (Chief Henry Benton), Art Evans (Lt. Bender), Clarence Felder (Lt. Walters), J.E. Freeman (Bedroom Killer) and Gary Riley (Heavy Metal Kid).