First on this tape, an LWT presentation of Ruthless People. Starting with an animated title sequence and a title song by Mick Jagger that couldn’t be more 80s if it had a mullet and shoulder pads. The song, incidentally, was written by Daryl Hall, Dave Stewart and Jagger – an interesting trinity.
It was directed by the triumvirate that made Airplane and Top Secret, although this is a much more conventional comedy – no surreal sight gags here, just a very black comedy. And for once, black comedy isn’t code for a comedy with no jokes.
Danny DeVito hates his wife. He only married her because she was the boss’s daughter, and the boss was dying, but as soon as they married, the boss got better, and he was married to Bette Midler, who he really doesn’t like.
That was fifteen years ago, as he explains in the opening scene to his girlfriend Anita Morris, and the father has now died, so he wants his money. So he plans to murder his wife. “Aren’t you scared?” she asks. “Scared? Hell no, I’m looking forward to it. My only regret is that the plan isn’t more violent.”
This is about as black as comedy gets.
DeVito’s home is a cacophony of 80s design. This movie is like a time capsule.
He goes home intending to drug his wife with chloroform, then throw her off a cliff, to make it look like a botched kidnapping. But she’s not at home. Then he receives a phone call. From kidnappers. Who have actually kidnapped his wife. “If you call the police, she will be killed. If you call the media, she will be killed.”
Cut to a media circus.
We then meet the kidnappers, Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater. They have a lot of trouble even getting Midler into their cellar while she’s tied up in a bag. She’s a handful.
“My husband worships the ground I walk on. When he finds out about this, he will EXPLODE!”
Cut to DeVito popping champagne.
Slater and Reinhold kidnapped Midler because they believe she’s DeVito’s partner, and DeVito stole a lot of Slater’s designed and passed them off as his own, so they want some of that money back.
Morris (DeVito’s girlfriend), who knows all about his plan, is planning to double cross him with her other boyfriend, Bill Pullman playing the dumbest blonde imaginable. They plan to video DeVito killing his wife, so they can blackmail him. “Then we’re off to Haiti.” “Not Haiti, Tahiti.”
But because of the real kidnapping, DeVito doesn’t turn up. Instead, another couple drive up, then start having sex, but because Pullman thinks he’s murdering her, he can’t watch, so has no idea what’s actually happening.
Meanwhile, enduring her captivity, Midler starts exercising. DeVito ignores Reinhold’s ransom drop for one he’s concocted by himself. And Morris and Pullman decide to turn the heat up on DeVito, so they send the tape of the ‘murder’ to him anonymously. But DeVito, seeing a man having sex in a car, thinks it’s been sent to titillate him, guesses it’s from his girlfriend, so he phones Morris and tells her how much he loves the tape, and looks forward to doing similar things to her. Textbook farce.
All the time that DeVito keeps ducking the ransom drops, hoping that the kidnappers will kill his wife, Midler is doing the only thing she can do while locked in the basement. She’s exercising.
So Morris and Pullman, still believing that the tape is evidence of DeVito murdering Midler, send a copy to the police. There’s only two problems. First, it’s a sex tape. Second, the man on the tape is the Chief of Police. There’s another brilliantly written scene where Morris talks to the chief, thinking she’s talking about a murder, and he thinks she’s using the tape to blackmail him. “That poor woman, she had to go through a living hell. I’d rather die a quick death.” She persuades him to arrest DeVito, and he doesn’t even need to plant evidence, because the police find the bottle of chloroform he was planning to use.
There’s a couple of nice character scenes with Reinhold at his job selling stereo equipment. After a brush with the police, he starts to sell a young man a hugely expensive set of speakers, but when the man’s pregnant young wife walks in, he crumbles, and tells him he’s got smaller speakers that are just as good, and far more affordable. He’s as soft-hearted negotiating sales as he is negotiating with DeVito.
And Midler’s exercising is paying off, as she’s lost 20 pounds. Slater gives her some of her fashion designs to try on, and they’ve soon bonded over her designs and Midler’s weight loss. Now, I don’t know much about fashion, but I’m not entirely sure Slater’s designs are quite as good as the film wants us to believe. But this was the 80s.
There’s yet another subplot around this time – a murderer has been sighted in the local area. The police are going door to door with his description, and we see him lurking near Reinhold’s house looking shifty.
Pretty soon, he’s entered the house, but before he can hurt anyone he falls down the cellar stairs and dies. But this doesn’t worry them because Slater, Reinhold and Midler are busy plotting their revenge against DeVito.
Morris and Pullman can’t understand why the police chief has let DeVito out on bail. So they have to watch the tape. The only place they can watch it is at a local electronics store. They realise their mistake, and plan to steal the ransom money.
The newly arranged ransom drop, with a ransom of over $2m, because Midler knows exactly how much her husband is worth, is another great scene. Especially when Pullman arrives to steal the money from Reinhold. “This could possibly be the stupidest person on the face of this Earth. Perhaps we should shoot him” says cop Clarence Felder.
So Reinhold takes the money and leaves, with the whole of the police department in hot pursuit. “I’m leaving now. They said they wouldn’t follow me.”
The pursuit ends when Reinhold drives his car off the end of the Santa Monica Pier and into the sea, but when the police fish out his body, it’s actually the killer from earlier. Handy, eh?
But all of DeVito’s money is gone, and to cap his day, Midler returns to him, only to push him into the water.
Reinhold emerges from the ocean with scuba gear and the briefcase of money, to a piece of music that sounds suspiciously similar to Dire Straits Walk of Life, which made me laugh, having seen the Walk of Life Project recently.
This is such a well constructed farce, with so many laughs. A black comedy that really deserves the name.
After this, over to the Movie Channel for Thelma and Louise. As a younger man, I tended to think it was a waste when Ridley Scott made movies that weren’t in the SF/Fantasy genre. Someone To Watch Over Me and Black Rain were adequate but uninspiring thrillers, but I always felt Scott was slumming and should get back to SF.
Thelma and Louise demonstrated something interesting. That, when handed a superb script (by Callie Kouri) he can deliver a hit. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Scott is a director entirely at the mercy of the script. I don’t think he has good enough story instincts to turn poor material into something great – he relies on the writers. When it’s poor you get Prometheus. When it’s great, you get Thelma and Louise.
Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis are the leads, two women who take a weekend away, which goes horribly when Davis is almost raped in a car park, and Sarandon shoots her assailant dead.
So the pair are off on a road movie, on the run from the police, led by Harvey Keitel. Along the way, they encounter a young Brad Pitt as an attractive drifter who steals all their money, as well as a revolting truck driver who regrets his crude behaviour when they shoot up his tanker.
Although all of their problems stem from men – Geena’s controlling, abusive husband, played brilliantly by Chris McDonald, Pitt’s thieving drifter, and most notably, the scumbag rapist who kicked off the whole trouble, not all the men in the movie are terrible. Michael Madsen plays a friend of Sarandon, who gives her money (which Pitt then steals) and just wants to help her. And Keitel’s investigator sees clearly that their situation has escalated out of control, and fights to keep the rest of the law enforcement posse from simply blowing them away. It’s him who states outright the film’s central premise – that all of their problems are caused by men.
It’s a brilliant movie, driven by two outstanding performances from Sarandon and Davis and a superb script by Callie Khouri, which still stands up now just as well as it did on release.
The recording finishes right after the movie.
- London International Boat Show
- Harrod’s Sale
- Holiday Autos
- Renault Clio
- Werther’s Original
- trail: The Bill/Second Thoughts/The Good Guys
- trail: TV Dating
- Tesco – Dudley Moore
- Thomas Cook
- Tilda Easy Cook Rice
- Selfridges Sale
- Maxwell House
- Ford – super-long driven by you ad