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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> May 2002 >> Ruthless People

Ruthless People

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
5 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
May 2002
IMDB Name:
Ruthless People (1986)
David Zucker
Jim Abrahams
Jerry Zucker
comedy, zucker-abrahams-zucker
MPAA Rating:

Subtle ZAZ

The word "subtle" does not usually appear in writing about the movies of David Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and Jerry Zucker unless it's in the negative. These are, after all, the guys that invented Frank Drebin, and gave Leslie Nielsen a second career as a comedic actor. These are the guys who crafted The Kentucky Fried Movie, a film that hasn't stopped shocking people in twenty-five years! Ruthless People is not the average ZAZ film, though, and even most ZAZ fans don't realize it's part of their ouvre. For starters, they didn't write it. Dale Launer adapted the O. Henry short "The Ransom of Red Chief" from a single kidnappers-intimidated- by-victim plot into a delightful farce packed with, well, ruthless people. The subtleties of the wordplay are the best a comedy could hope for. I dare say this movie is more on the level of A Fish Called Wanda than Airplane. Most of the visual slapstick is replaced by delicate plotting and funny acting, although a few hints of the ZAZ zaniness creep through, as when we see the police getting really comfortable at the Stone mansion.

Of course, the people who most want to be ruthless are the least capable of it. Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater are passable as the Kesslers, but they're not meant to be the interesting characters. Danny DeVito and Bette Midler get to play characters who are loud and uncompromising, the result of being rich. Bill Pullman makes a hilarious dunce, the kind of guy who wears bright, "Miami Vice" suits when sent to do some covert photography at night. Anita Morris has one of the movie's best lines when discussing stupidity, and the long look to Pullman that interrupts her sentence is priceless. Her exchanges with William G. Schilling are also terrific. I see that casting director Ellen Chenoweth was nominated for an award, and the reason is very clear on the screen.

The Little Things

I got a big laugh out of the presence of a Sports Training Montage thrown in where pretty much every mainstream film throws in the Semi-Obligatory, Lyrical Interlude. I'd never been particularly aware of STMs until a recent episode of "South Park", but now they'll always bring a smile. I see that cinematographer- turned-action-director Jan de Bont was behind the camera for Ruthless People, although I didn't note any stylistic idiosyncracies. Far more surprising is script supervisor Doris Grau, who I only thought of as a voice actress. She worked as both on "The Simpsons", and was very funny in "The Critic".

DVD Comments

The Ruthless People disc was not made with any particular ideas of grandeur. The disc, despite being released in 2002, is lacking in almost every conceivable extra feature available even for the crappiest of films. The one (1) feature that I could find is one that I consider to be a requirement: same-language subtitles. In this case, they're nicely done captions that include song lyrics and credits in some cases. Other than that, the disc has nothing. I know the ZAZ team have done commentaries for other movies, but not here. There isn't even a theatrical trailer! Perhaps in 2006 somebody will realize that this terrific DeVito and Midler vehicle deserves better.

See the IMDB information on Ruthless People's DVD or compare prices at DVD Price Search.

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Copyright 2002 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.