Dave's Ruthless People Rewatch
Back in 1986, when I was 12, my parents took me to see RUTHLESS PEOPLE in a rinky-dink theater in Jamestown NY. This was right in the midst of my comedy puberty, the year I was discovering George Carlin, Bizzarre and classic SNL. In that tiny theater, mixing it up with Danny Devito, Judge Reinhold, Bette Midler and Bill Pullman, I felt like an adult of comedy. If comedy were to drink tea with its pinky in the air, give this one a cookie to dunk, thought my adolescent mind. Now almost 30 years later I delve back into my comedy awakenings to see what holds up and what has sagged with age.
Here’s the 2 minute recap. Danny Devito is married to Bette Midler. He plans on killing her. But before he can, Judge Reinhold and his ‘80’s wife kidnaps her. As they threaten her, Devito tries to manipulate them to do his dirty work. Add in Devito’s mistress and her dumb as a wall tile boyfriend Jeff Daniels and cue the miscues as comedy oozes out like jelly from a donut.
Of course the unheralded star of the movie is the ‘80s. From the opening, neon cartoon credit sequence to the ‘80’s smothered set decoration, all the way down to MILF-inspired, poofed up hair and add in the casting of Judge Reinhold, this is The ’80s: The Motion Picture. If a set designer dropped acid and was told to ridiculously recreate the ‘80s, this is the movie that provides the highest bar. The fad dominated decade so permeates the picture one believes that it’s the sarcastic argument against everything ‘80s.
Obviously, it’s very easy to pick on this ‘80’s quilt. And as easy as it is to mock it’s harder to deny how funny the movie actually is. From the very simple set up that builds and builds in misunderstandings and mistaken identities, every moment is interlaced and twists with the joyful glee of a comedy director tickling his audience. NOTE: Don’t be in that audience. Here is as good as place to mention as any that Jim Abrahams, David Zucker andJerry Zucker directed the movie. Yep, the AIRPLANE! guys. NOTE 2: Ah, if it’s the Zucker Brothers, maybe I do want to be in that audience. And just like AIRPLANE! this RUTHLESS PEOPLE has tiny jokes all over the screen in any given scene. One of the best is a well-placed “World’s Greatest Husband” mug that barely registers and once it does, becomes one of the funniest touches to the scene.
I’m not going to lie. I really had doubts that it would hold up. But it does. Even under it’s garish ‘80’s makeup (Yes, I’m going to harp on that, Dan, so chill yourself out and mow your damn lawn and sit the hell down.) I remember this being a fast paced comedy in 1986 and that’s one place where it shows its age. It isn’t the rapid fire comedy of constant titters titillating us of these days. But I can see in this that torch that is passed down from one generation to the next. From Marx brothers to Zucker brothers and so on. This is the type of movie that had to inspire the Farrelly Brothers, Judd Apatow, Paul Feig and of course a 12 year old kid at the dawn of his comedy awakenings. Sure RUTHLESS PEOPLE isn’t the mature endeavor into adult comedy I thought it was in 1986, but it was indeed one of my firsts and it still looks good even after all these years.
REWATCH GRADE – Cinema Craptaculus