Ruthless People [1986]

A milestone comedy of the 1980s, Ruthless People delighted critics and audiences alike and set the tone of Hollywood comedies for years to come. Along with that other popular farce about wealthy Californians, Down and Out in Beverly Hills, this ingenious romp revived Bette Midler's career and launched Disney (by way of its subsidiary, Touchstone Pictures) into the lucrative production of R-rated comedies; it also ensured the star power of then-TV star Danny DeVito. Dale Launer became Hollywood's hot screenwriter du jour by cleverly reworking O. Henry's Ransom of Red Chief into a wicked tale of marital malice heightened by a bungled kidnapping. Midler is sublime as the victim of low-rent abductors ("I've been kidnapped by Kmart!"), and DeVito's the gleeful philanderer who refuses to pay ransom for his wife's unwanted return. With Anita Morris, Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater, and Bill Pullman among the plot-twisting schemers, the movie's so much fun that an eventual remake seems almost inevitable. --Jeff Shannon

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