Ruthless People

This movie has a simple premise: a man wants to kill his wife, but before he can, she is kidnapped. This solves all of his problems – all he has to do is not pay the ransom and then her blood will be on someone else’s hands and the police won’t suspect him. The poor witless kidnappers are then stuck taking care of this awful harpy of a woman who they have no intention of killing.


Danny DeVito plays the angry husband as a creep from the instant he appears, all fury and smarm. The wife, who is played by Bette Middler, is a self absorbed Beverly Hills yuppie, the sort who is obsessed with all of the 80’s stereotypes of rich things, like name brand facial creams and fancy health food. Bill Pullman is really funny as a hunk that’s too lunkheaded to be believable. The instant that you see these characters you know what they are all about, and all the actors are fully committed to playing these stock roles.


But if the movie was slightly darker – if it played out more like a Coen brothers movie, basically – then instead of just being funny, it would have real heft to it. It might sacrifice some humor if it went darker, but the laughs would also stick more than they do. Because the kidnappers are not capable of violence, not even through unintentional bumbling, there’s no variety to the movie’s tone and at some point the jokes (which were a little generic to begin with) start to to blend together. Furthermore, the actual plot of the movie would feel vital if we didn’t already feel like we knew where this was going.


This could have been a movie about greed, or love, or any number of other human emotions. Instead, it’s a pleasant farce with unrealized potential. There are worse things in life, of course, but there are also better. 

Winner: Me (mostly)

Ruthless People on IMDB