Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ruthless People


I have just returned from my concert in Wymore, Nebraska and I will have to have strong words with Joseph, my manager about this booking. I was severely disappointed in the arrangements. When I arrived at the airport, rather than the adoring throngs that usually greet me, there was a solitary old man on an ancient John Deere. Orville was to be my transportation and guide. He threw all fifty-seven of my carefully packed Louis Vuitton suitcases into a rickety looking open trailer and we proceeded down a dirt road at about five miles an hour to the concert site. Apparently, rather than a concert hall, there was just a plywood stage in the middle of some pastureland. Korn, my musical accompaniment, turned out to be five ratty looking young men with a lot of guitars and paraphernalia rather than the tuxedoed symphony I had been led to expect. They spent a lot of time singing something that sounded suspiciously like 'Jingle Balls' but I may have been mishearing them. I retired to my dressing room, which looked suspiciously like an old porta-potty, to await showtime.

At eight PM, the lights went down, and I stepped out in my new Mizrahi red silk dress on my red motorized iceberg to start the set. The band launched into a very loud rendition of The Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald as the spotlights gave me that lovely glow (helped by Lesterene cosmetics from GAC). Things went well for the first few numbers, and then there was a commotion in the crowd; men with bib overalls and their wives in patterned gingham were in an uproar all over the field. It seems that one of the neighboring farmers had forgotten to lock the gate on his paddock and Ferdinand the bull and his brothers were busy charging the crowd. I stepped down to calm everyone, but the bulls turned on my red dress forcing me to flee and climb a nearby light stanchion. My beautiful gown suffered several rips and I felt trapped in a surreal version of Pamplona. Eventually the local SWAT team arrived and restored order but by then several of the musicians had been gored, some of the farmers had to be disarmed before they hurt someone, and I was engaged in a major catfight with some farmwife with an oversize beehive over what little sitting room there was on the crosstrees. It was time to call it a night.

Orville brought me back to the airport and I was never so glad to see LAX. After returning home to Chateau Maine and checking on Norman, it was definitely time for some R & R. I poured myself a little crème de menthe and snuck off to the home cinema where I was still consumed with visions of SWAT teams. As I was in no mood for a film with serious violence, I settled on Ruthless People where the SWAT team plays only a minor and somewhat benign role. I had considered The Mask instead momentarily, but I had had enough of musical numbers involving the police force for the moment.

Ruthless People is inspired by the famous O. Henry story, The Ransom of Red Chief in which a couple of hapless kidnappers swipe a boy who is so much trouble, that his family is somewhat relieved that he's gone and the kidnappers have a hard time giving him back. It was revised into a modern tale of Beverly Hills by screenwriter Dale Launer and refined further by the directors, the ZAZ triumvirate of Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams and David Zucker, the guys behind Airplane! and The Naked Gun movies.

Sam Stone (Danny DeVito) is the Spandex miniskirt king, having achieved his wealth and position through an unfortunate marriage to Barbara (Bette Midler), a harridan of the first water. He longs to ditch Barbara in order to marry his voluptuous mistress Carol (Anita Morris) and decides to come up with a foolproof murder plan. Before this can take effect, Barbara is kidnapped by the Kesslers (Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater). It turns out that Sam took credit for Sandy Kessler's clothing designs and they want some revenge and some money. Barbara, however, turns out to be more of a handful than they had anticipated and things start to go wrong. In the meantime, Carol, more interested in Sam's money than Sam, cooks up a blackmail plot against him with her true boyfriend Earl (Bill Pullman), the original dumb blond. Throw in some libidinous cops, a serial killer, and a do it yourself diet and exercise plan and you've got a classic comedy.

The script is exceedingly well structured, each comic complication proceeding naturally from the one before and the situations flowing naturally out of the characters and their relationships. There are marvelous comic bits, especially from Bette Midler (this is one of the films that resurrected her career in the mid 80s). Her line delivery during a hamburger-frying scene is priceless. Bill Pullman, in his film debut, gives a wonderful performance as a stud a few bulbs short of a marquee and Anita Morris gives another one of her patented comic kewpie dolls with the hibiscus red hair. The only thing that doesn't work terribly well is the serial killer subplot, which seems like an add on in order to make the ultimate denouement work.

The ZAZ group of directors have things well in hand, unlike the uncontrolled mayhem/anything for a laugh of many of their comedies, this one is very sure of itself. The characters are well delineated. The comic bits support the characters and the labyrinthine plot of maneuver and counter maneuver never becomes unclear or obfuscated by shtick. They've even devised, with the help of animator Sally Cruikshank, a nifty opening sequence in which the credits wreak horrible deaths on each other.

Special mention must also go to the art department who created the ultimate in bad taste interiors for Barbara Stone's house. Where they found the nightmarish furniture and decorative objects is beyond me. Think jet age crossed with Salvador Dali at his most surreal. Costumes and make-up, which are integral to the plot, are also well thought out and make the most of character.

This is a great film for curling up with on a lazy evening when you just need a 'Forget Your Troubles, Come On Get Happy' moment.

Bottle of chloroform. Screaming hooker. Yapping lap dog. Duck masks. Gratuitous spider stomping. Paint can aerobics. Loud stereo system. Gratuitous Miami Vice reference. Dust buster as personal appliance. Long drive off short pier.

No comments:

Post a Comment