Tag Archives: Danny DeVito

Ruthless People (1986)

Ruthless People Movie Poster (1986)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: His wife gets kidnapped.

Sam (Danny DeVito) wants to kill his shrewish wife Barbara (Bette Midler) so he can get her inheritance, but is unable to when she is kidnapped by a young couple (Judge Reinhold, Helen Slater) who demand ransom. Sam decides not to pay it, but mistakenly tells his lover (Anita Morris) about his plans and she with the help of her secret boyfriend Earl (Bill Pullman) scheme to use this information to extort him, but then a neighborhood psycho known as The Bedroom Killer (J.E. Freeman) throws everything into chaos by threatening to kill all of them.

The script was written by Dale Launer who at the time was a struggling salesman at a sound appliance store much like Judge Reinhold’s character in the movie, but like with many scripts written by first-timers there’s too many characters and a plot-heavy scenario that throws in one irony after another until it gets convoluted. Too much emphasis is placed on the concept and not enough on the characters with an end result that has no point to it other than just being very crass and over-the-top.

Everyone onscreen is simply a flimsy caricature used to propel the elaborate plot along and nothing more. The only one that is likable is Helen Slater whose nervous wide-eyed gaze makes her presence memorable. The film though would’ve worked better had it focused solely on the contrasting couples as well as having Reinhold and Slater shown working together more instead of Reinhold taking over and pushing Slater off to the side until she becomes almost forgotten.

DeVito is enjoyable, but Midler is annoying especially with her exaggerated facial expressions.  I also didn’t buy into the idea that this woman who is otherwise quite cynical and sarcastic would be naïve enough to believe that her husband still loved her and supposedly ‘worshipped the ground’ that she walked on even when he really didn’t. After living with somebody for 15 years, which is how long their marriage apparently was, you get a pretty clear view of your partner’s flaws no matter how hard they try to camouflage it. Even the most wide-eyed of people would’ve been at the very least suspicious that he might have ulterior motives as there’s always red flags and the fact that this lady was completely oblivious to them only proves how poorly fleshed-out the characters here are.

Spoiler Alert!

The story is overloaded with loopholes too. For instance Anita Morris and her lover Bill Pullman decide to play the tape of what they think is Sam murdering his wife on a VCR inside a TV-equipment store where all the other customers can see it, but why play something publicly that could potentially get them into a lot of trouble? If Pullman was able to afford a video camera, as he was the one who recorded the incident to begin with, then why couldn’t he also afford his own VCR?

It also takes too long for the police to suspect that Sam may have something to do with his wife’s disappearance even though in reality the spouse is always the prime suspect from the get-go. Having 8 police cars openly tailing Reinhold in hopes that he will lead them to his hideout is pretty stupid too. The idea is to not allow the suspect to be aware that you’re following him because otherwise he will just lead the police on a wild-goose-chase, which is exactly what he does here and any savvy veteran cop would’ve predicted that. I realize the filmmakers thought it would be ‘funny’ visually seeing all these police cars chasing the suspect, but it’s instead nonsensical. Every movie needs to have at least one person who is grounded and sensible even if everyone else is kooky. Having everyone behaving foolishly makes the story inane and unbelievable.

Reinhold’s ability to escape from his submerged vehicle after he drives it into a lake is equally questionable. Putting on a breathing apparatus underwater as he apparently does would be quite difficult if not impossible and how exactly was he able to make it seem like it was the Bedroom Killer (who was killed earlier in the film) as the driver of the getaway vehicle instead of himself? For that to happen the killer would’ve had to have been sitting in the driver’s seat where Reinhold was previously. Are we to believe that Reinhold had the dead killer’s body in the trunk of his car and while underwater somehow able to get the corpse from the trunk into the driver’s seat before the police got to it? The logistics of this is dubious, which is why having a scene done underwater showing him going through all of this should’ve been inserted in, but unfortunately isn’t.

End of Spoiler Alert!

Overall despite a few chuckles it’s a superficial mess and nowhere near the acerbic, dark satire that it likes to think it is. I disliked the gaudy Memphis style furniture used in DeVito’s home as well, which gives the production too much of a campy look.  Billy Joel’s ‘Modern Woman’, which gets played over the closing credits, seems to have nothing to do with the main theme and completely out of place. I also couldn’t stand the dresses that Helen Slater’s character designs. The movie acts like she has ‘talent’ and Midler really likes wearing them even though it looks like something you’d put on a clown and nothing I’d ever want to be seen in and I’d feel sorry for anyone who did wear them.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: June 27, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 33Minutes

Rated R

Directors: Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, Jerry Zucker

Studio: Touchstone Pictures

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Throw Momma from the Train (1987)

throw momma 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: Two guys trade murders.

Larry (Billy Crystal) is a creative writing teacher who’s bitter about his ex-wife (Kate Mulgrew) stealing his story idea and using it to write a successful novel that has made her rich and famous while he wallows in the realm of writer’s block. Owen (Danny DeVito) is a writing student taking one of Larry’s classes who is stuck living with his miserable mother (Anne Ramsey) who he’d like to see dead. After watching the movie Strangers on a Train he comes up with what he thinks is a brilliant solution. He’ll murder Larry’s ex-wife while Larry in turn will murder his Momma. Owen does his part, but Larry is reluctant to pull his end of the ‘deal’.

DeVito gets a lot of accolades for his acting, but in many ways I think he is an even better director and doesn’t get enough credit for it. This movie was way ahead-of-its-time and ushers in many interesting juxtapositions and edits that we take for granted now, but was considered quite novel back then. I loved the close-up of Owen’s Hawaiian shirt with palm trees and then a jet plane formatted over it, which is used to cut to the next scene as well as the scene showing Larry’s students sitting in class and then the camera panning over in one take to Larry sleeping on the sofa in his apartment. The segments with a camera spinning around the characters is good and gives it a very Hitchcock feel especially the one with Larry lying on the floor as the camera rotates above him, but the best directorial touch is when Owen goes bowling while imagining that the pins are his mother.

Ramsey’s performance as the ultimate mother from hell is another selling point and one that has made this a cult classic. The fact that the woman was dying of cancer at the time and was in severe pain during the entire time that the movie was being filmed makes it all the more impressive. My only complaint is that it would’ve been nice had there been at least one moment where her character revealed a softer side and made her seem at least slightly human. I also felt that her eventual demise was quite unimaginative especially for a film that was otherwise very creative.

DeVito scores as well in his performance of the nebbish grown son in a character that could’ve easily been unlikable had it not been perfectly balanced, which he does marvelously. Crystal is excellent as a sort of sane everyman stuck in a very insane situation. His best part comes when he paces his house endlessly while trying desperately to come up with the opening sentence of his novel, which I found to be one of the funniest moments in the movie and something every struggling writer can relate to.

The wrap-up is a bit too good natured and works against the story’s otherwise dark comical roots, but it still gets a few points for showing Owen’s children’s pop-up book that he made, which illustrates the film’s scenario.

throw momma 2

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 28Minutes

Rated PG-13

Director: Danny DeVito

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

Tin Men (1987)

tin men

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Feuding between two salesmen.

Bill (Richard Dreyfuss) and Ernest (Danny DeVito) are two aluminum siding salesmen living in 1963 Baltimore who one day find themselves involved in a minor car accident. Their feuding though escalates as each blames the other for the fender bender, which leads them to vandalizing each other’s cars when the other isn’t around and even having Bill begin an affair with Ernest’s wife Nora (Barbara Hershey). Yet as a federal commission begins honing in on their unscrupulous sales practices the two find that they may need to learn to work together in order to survive.

This is one film that is hard to gauge. For the most part I liked it. The cinematography and period detail are bright and vivid and I loved the row of track houses that the DeVito character lives in. The dialogue is sharp and Dreyfuss is good at playing the type of character DeVito usually does while DeVito is surprisingly more sympathetic. In fact I felt this may be the best performances of both of their careers.

The humor though fluctuates between being subtle to farcical and the over-the-top feud between the two becomes quite strained. For one thing I didn’t think the DeVito character had enough time to be sneaking around trying to destroy Dreyfuss’s car since he was barely able to make ends meet with his job. The fact that both he and Dreyfuss destroy the other’s car, but then don’t sue or even call the police when it continues made little sense. These two watch every little penny that they have, so having Dreyfuss’s car mysteriously get repaired after it was vandalized was questionable as most insurance policies won’t cover that type of repair and it’s highly unlikely he would’ve paid for it out of his own pocket when he clearly knew who had done it.

I also had issues with the Hershey character. Her acting is outstanding, but the fact that she decides to have an affair with Dreyfuss after only a brief meeting with him while inside a grocery store seemed unlikely. For one thing this was 1963 and before the sexual revolution, so even considering an affair was filled with shame and stigma and having her openly discuss it with her friend at work seemed quite dubious. She also ends up moving-in with Dreyfuss even before was she was divorced, which was another big no-no and makes her behavior far too liberated and completely out-of-place for the time period.

The film improves as it goes along, but the incessant fighting gets overdone and quickly loses its edge. Having them learn to get along at some point was needed. It eventually does occur to some extent at the very end, but it takes way too long to get there and it should’ve happened sooner and given the story and characters an extra dimension. There is also a scene where the two get together to play a game of pool where the winner gets to have Nora, but the film then cuts away without ever showing the game getting played, which was a bit of disappointment since the scene had potential for some interesting nuances.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: March 13, 1987

Runtime: 1Hour 52Minutes

Rated R

Director: Barry Levinson

Studio: Buena Vista Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

The War of the Roses (1989)

war of the roses

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Yuppie couple destroys home.

Oliver and Barbara Rose (Michael Douglas, Kathleen Turner) are a married couple with contrasting personalities who find that they no longer get along and in fact can’t even stand each other. They agree to a divorce and all of the assets except for the house. Both of them want to keep it and Oliver’s attorney Gavin (Danny DeVito) has found a loophole in the law that allows Oliver to remain there even after the separation is final. The problem is that they continue to get on each other’s nerves, which culminates with them locking themselves into the home one dark, harrowing night and using whatever prop available to vent their anger onto the other while inadvertently destroying the house in the process.

Some consider this to be one of the darkest comedies to ever be financed by a major Hollywood studio and when you think about it, it really is amazing. Most major studios shy away from edgy material and water it down until it becomes benign, but this film, which is based on the 1981 Warren Adler novel of the same title, stays quite true to its source material. The humor is on-target while making a great trenchant statement towards capitalism and yuppies in general. DeVito’s direction is visual and imaginative and there are some truly funny moments including the one where Turner destroys Douglas’s British Morgan Roadster with her 4-wheel drive truck.

The reuniting of Douglas and Turner from the Romancing the Stone films was perfecting casting. The two seem to have genuinely distinctive personas and it’s fun to imagine this as simply an extension of their earlier characters of Jack Colton and Joan Wilder and what happens when their rosy romance turns into the realities of marriage. The scene where Douglas’s character saws off the heels of Turner’s shoes is a great connection to their earlier film as his character did the exact same thing there, but it was unfortunate that we never get to see Turner’s reaction to it.

The production is slick, but having DeVito act as the film’s narrator seemed a bit distracting at times and the film might’ve worked better without him although he does have a few verbal gems during the second hour that almost makes up for it. I also didn’t like that the character who he tells this story to never says a single word, which to me seemed unnatural and weird as did his green painted office. Having the two kids of the couple turn out to be pudgy and fat was amusing and helped in a metaphorical way to symbolize the parent’s gluttony for materialism, but then the filmmakers end up ruining their own joke by having the kids later on become thin and attractive for no reason.

Spoiler Alert!!

The knock-down ending inside the home is great and DeVito’s use of Hitchcock overtones is inspired. Seeing the couple trapped on a ceiling chandelier while the camera travels up the wires of the light and into the attic where we see how the added weight bursts the bolts that anchors it is quite clever and even ingenious, but I was disappointed that the two end up crashing to the floor and dying. For one thing I didn’t think it was a big enough fall to have killed both of them. Maybe one, but most likely they both would’ve survived, but with injuries. Either way it would’ve been more interesting to see how they responded to each other after the incident and whether it helped to change them or their love/hate relationship, which to some degree is the film’s most unsatisfying aspect

End of Spoiler Alert!!

Adler wrote a sequel to his novel in 2004 that dealt with a messy divorce of the Rose’s grown son Josh to his wife. That book has now been put into production as a movie entitled The War of the Roses: The Children although no release date or cast has been announced as of yet.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 8, 1989

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated R

Director: Danny DeVito

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The Jewel of the Nile (1985)

jewel of the nile

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Searching for a jewel.

In this sequel to Romancing the Stone Jack (Michael Douglas) and Joan (Kathleen Turner) are living the easy life on a yacht, but are bored and looking for some adventure. Joan is given the opportunity to write a book about a visiting sheik named Omar (Spiros Focas) and travels to the Middle East to learn more about him. There she finds that he has sinister intentions and simply using her to be a part of his scheme, which compells her to try and expose him, but first she must escape from his clutches. Jack and Ralph (Danny DeVito) team up to help her along with a prince named Jewel (Avner Eisenberg) and together the four find themselves in one wild predicament after another.

Although this film did not do as well in the box office as its predecessor I still ended up enjoying it and felt in a lot of ways it was better. It has a bigger budget and slickly handled direction. The humor is more consistent and edgy and Jack and Joan share a love/hate relationship that is more entertaining than the Harlequin romance novel that the first one became while the on-location shooting that was done mainly in Morocco has some genuinely breathtaking scenery.

The scene in which the three get into a fighter jet plane and use it to tear up a village while still remaining on the ground is the film’s highlight. Their escape from Omar while climbing on a very steep rocky cliff is exciting and watching DeVito get sat on by a donkey is quite funny.

DeVito’s character is used much more here and his on-screen moments are one of the best things about the movie. Focas as the evil sheik is okay and at the very least is a more dynamic bad guy than the ones that were used in the first film. Holland Taylor as Joan’s snarky agent is the only one whose presence gets wasted and she ends having what amounts to only a few minutes of screen time making me wonder why she even bothered to appear at all.

The biggest drawback, like with the first film, is with the plot itself. The concept is too broad and the set-up rather convoluted making me both confused and ambivalent at the same time. It improves by the middle to be mildly interesting and has enough comedy and action to keep afloat, but the 105 minute runtime is too long for the bubblegum material and stretches the climactic sequence past its peak until it becomes derivative and overdone.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1985

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Lewis Teague

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video, Netflix streaming, YouTube

Romancing the Stone (1984)

romancing the stone

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Romance novelist has adventure.

Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a romance novelist living her love life out through her characters because she fails to have one of her own. One day she receives a mysterious treasure map in the mail and then gets a call stating that her sister Elaine (Mary Ellen Trainor) has been kidnapped and will only be released once her captors receive the map. Joan then travels down to Columbia where Elaine is being held and bumps into Jack (Michael Douglas) a rugged adventurer who helps her navigate her way through to jungle while falling in love with her in the process.

The most interesting aspect to the film may actually be in the backstory of its screenwriter Diane Thomas who seemed to live both the Hollywood dream and tragedy all at the same time. She was working as a waitress while struggling as a would-be screenwriter during her off hours. Then one day by chance actor Michael Douglas arrived at her café as one of her customers and seeing this as her one chance to break into the business she pitched her idea, which later became this movie, to him and he loved it. She was eventually able to sell it for $250,000 and as an added bonus Douglas brought her a Prosche, which she ended up being killed in during a car accident that occurred only 1 year after this film was released.

As a story though this thing is quite weak and barely passes for a plot at all and really is just more of some high-end adventure concepts strung together. It’s pretty much bubblegum on a fifth graders level and if you stop to think about it all it will quickly become quite empty-headed.

Turner’s performance and her nerdy character is the best thing about it. Unfortunately the character changes too quickly shifting into a more confident and secure woman by the midway point and thus losing its comic edge. Her relationship with Jack is initially interesting as well as they have very divergent personalities and approaches to things, but this too gets lost when the romance between the two becomes full-throttle making the film’s whole second half seem more like a feminist fantasy than an actual movie.

Danny Devito is amusing and needed more screen time. However, the ironic ways he keeps accidently bumping into the main characters starts to become a little too convenient. Holland Taylor is fun as Joan’s snarky agent and I wished her character had gone along with Joan on the adventure. The bad guys though are dull and generic and create no type of fun tension at all.

The story as a whole is just too cutesy and lacks any type of real conflict or excitement. Had Jack and Joan’s sparring been played up more and only turned into a romance at the very end, or even just approaching it in a satirical vein to all the romance novels out there I might have gotten more into it. Female viewers may take to this better as it seems completely geared for them. Unfortunately though it becomes too slick for its own good while failing to have any footing in reality, which ultimately makes it cease to feel like any type of real adventure at all.

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: March 30, 1984

Runtime: 1Hour 46Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Robert Zemekis

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Wise Guys (1986)

wise guys

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 3 out of 10

4-Word Review: Hiding from the mob.

This review contains some Spoilers!

Harry and Moe (Danny DeVito, Joe Piscopo) work as errand boys for a Newark, New Jersey mob run by Castelo (Dan Hedaya). They are tired of doing all the odd, dangerous jobs that no one else wants to and long to one day break away and open up their own restaurant, but lack the required capital. Then one day they are assigned to go to the track to bet on a certain horse, but Harry is convinced that another one will win, so they place all $250,000 dollars on that one only to lose. Now they must go on the run searching for Harry’s Uncle Mike who they hope can replenish them with the lost money before the mob’s henchman The Fixer (Captain Lou Albano) catches up with them to dispense their punishment.

Director Brian De Palma returns to his comical roots of Hi Mom! and Greetings, but unfortunately this film lacks the creativity and originality of those and instead comes off as just another tired, generic 80’s comedy. The attempted twists are not interesting or surprising. Having them lose on a ‘sure thing’ after they initially start gloating when it looks like their horse would win is comedy writing 101. The Sting-like ending is equally contrived and something I figured out long before it gets revealed. Again, you simply have to know the rules of a Hollywood comedy, which states every ending must be a ‘feel good’ one, so if a main character suddenly dies you automatically know there’s got to be some sort of catch to it such as is the case here.

The motivations of the characters are loopy. For one thing going back to their boss while putting up only a mild resistance after they’ve lost the money for what will most definitely be punishment and torture seems dumber than dumb even for these dimwits. The idea that they would both stay loyal to one another even during torture is not believable. Yes it may sound noble, but realistically especially when their families were being threatened it would have to be expected that at least one of them would crack and betray the other. Then the boss has them assigned to kill the other one and for a while they both secretly consider it, but this doesn’t make sense either because if they are going to remain so loyal to the other during torture then shouldn’t it be expected that they would immediately tell each other that they’ve been pegged to kill the other and then come up with some alternative plan to get out of it?

The destruction of Fixer’s convertible becomes another logical blunder. Yes, they both despise him and the chance at destroying his prized possession would seem tempting to anyone in their shoes, but they also need his car to get away and go places, so destroying it until it is literally inoperable becomes really stupid.

DeVito is great at playing arrogant, sarcastic jerks, but as a sympathetic good guy he is benign and out-of-place. I also didn’t care for wrestler-turned-actor Albano’s presence as his character is too one-dimensionally crude and obnoxious and the part where he is shown lying on his back with his big fat belly exposed is just plain gross to look at.

There have been some great gangster movies throughout cinema history, but they all tend to be ones that take the genre seriously and when they try to give it a comical spin it comes off as lame like this one. The part where Harry’s grandmother (Mimi Cecchini) reveals a million dollar bills that she has ‘stuffed under her mattress’ and the way all of Castelo’s henchmen eagerly light up his cigarette every time he puts one in his mouth, which happens twice with the second time being the gem, are the only two mildly amusing moments in this otherwise flat comedy.

My Rating: 3 out of 10

Released: April 18, 1986

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: Brian De Palma

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video