The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
Real Genius
1985, Columbia, Rated PG

Val Kilmer
Gabe Jarret
William Atherton

Directed by Martha Coolidge
Written by Neal Israel, Pat Proft & Peter Torokvei

When Mitch Taylor (Gabe Jarret) wins his high school science fair with an exhibit that could revolutionize laser technology, he's recruited by noted physicist Professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) to attend a university where he can work in the professor's private lab, along with the legendary student Chris Knight (Val Kilmer), among others. This is a great honor for Mitch, and he jumps at the chance. Little does he -- or his fellow student geniuses -- realize that Hathaway is actually working with the Defense Department on a top secret project to create a laser beam so precise it can incinerate an individual when launched from an orbiting satellite. Mitch doesn't notice anything's amiss because he's too busy admiring his idol, the eccentric and wise-cracking Chris, not to mention the hyperkinetic but beautiful Jordan (Michelle Meyerink). When Chris, Mitch and Jordan do discover what Hathaway is up to they scramble to sabotage the Defense Department's testing of the laser they've developed, destroying not only Hathaway's reputation but his home as well, by redirecting the laser to heat up an aluminum foil-wrapped ton of popcorn that, when it pops, splits the house apart at the seams.
The silly ending aside, several factors set Real Genius apart from the plethora of Eighties teen flicks set on a college campus. One is that the characters are almost exclusively nerds. Not frat boys, dumb jocks or sexy coeds. Another is the direction by Martha Coolidge (who is responsible for 1983's Valley Girl and 1984's National Lampoon's Joy of Sex) which is as quirky as the plot and the characters. Yet another is the writing by Neal Israel (Bachelor Party) and Pat Proft (Bachelor Party and Police Academy); the script is laden with memorable one-liners and quick-witted repartee. The best lines are saved for Chris Knight -- and that brings us to the film's real secret weapon: Val Kilmer. One might think that casting Kilmer as a nerd was an unusual and risky move. But Kilmer displays a comic talent he's seldom been allowed to use since. His Chris Knight makes nerdiness cool, and the character has become a hero for many techy types. As usual, Atherton plays the villain, Hathaway, with sleazy aplomb.Michelle Meyerink gives a standout performance as Jordan in one of her all-too-few films; why she never became a star is a mystery. Like Kilmer and Meyerink, Real Genius is different, funny and a pleasure to watch.

Eighties Club rating: ***

US box office: $13 million
US release date: 8.7.85

"Everybody Wants To Rule The World," Tears for Fears
"All She Wants To Do Is Dance," Don Henley
"One Night Love Affair," Bryan Adams
"The Walls Come Down," The Call
"Number One, Chaz Jankel
(& more)

Paris Film Festival
Best Actor (Gabriel Jarret)
Grand Prix (Martha Coolidge)

Red Heat
1988, Carolco/Lone Wolf, Rated R

Arnold Schwarzenegger
James Belushi
Ed O'Ross

Directed by Walter Hill
Written by Harry Kleiner, Walter Hill & Troy Kennedy Martin

Star pupil of the Sam Peckinpah school of filmmaking, Walter Hill is one of Hollywood's most successful action flick directors. In 1982 Hill's 48 Hrs., starring Nick Nolte and Eddie Murphy, was a huge hit and set the parameters for a slew of Eighties buddy action films, culminating in Richard Donner's Lethal Weapon (1987) and Lethal Weapon 2 (1989). By the end of the decade action films had proliferated, and matched against other entries, Red Heat is strictly average. With a Walter Hill film the viewer can rest assured that there will be plenty of action, a high body count, crisp dialogue and a close attention to detail. In Red Heat the "buddies" are Ivan Danko (Arnold Schwarzenegger), a Soviet cop on the trail of a drug lord who has slipped through his grasp in Moscow and fled to the States, and Art Ridzik (James Belushi), a wisecracking Chicago cop who becomes Danko's reluctant partner in the manhunt. The druglord, Viktor Rosta, played with delightfully menacing style by Ed O'Ross, buys cocaine in America and smuggles it into the USSR; now he's in cahoots with a black criminal organization to make a big buy. But neither an army of shotgun-toting, musclebound thugs or Ridzik's by-the-book superiors (ably portrayed by Peter Boyle and Laurence Fishburne) can stop Danko from tracking Rosta down.
Such movies depend on the chemistry between the buddies, and when compared to the Nolte/Murphy and Gibson/Glover combinations of the more notable films in the genre, the Schwarzenegger/Belushi pairing leaves much to be desired. Schwarzenegger's character is as stoic and taciturn as the Terminator, so Belushi's Ridzik has to fill in most of the dialogue -- and his glib, profane banter eventually becomes annoying. Besides, Ridzik is largely superfluous; one senses that Danko could do the job quite well all by himself. As for Schwarzenegger, we see in Red Heat his continuing development as an actor who manages to overcome tremendous obstacles -- his appearance and accent -- and prove he has real talent for both drama and comedy. As for Hill's attention to detail, it should be pointed out that Russian fans of the movie are impressed by the authenticity of Schwarzenegger's portrayal of Danko and Hill's deft contrast of the rigid but orderly Soviet society with the decadent chaos of American streets. Red Heat was shot in 1987 -- the first American feature film to be shot in Red Square -- and by then the Cold War had thawed. Reagan and Gorbachev were buddies themselves (even though their wives didn't much care for each other) and the USSR was no longer an "evil empire." In fact, Danko and his fellow Soviets come across as the heroes of the film, trying to protect the Russian people from the "American poison" of cocaine.

Eighties Club rating: **

US box office: $35 million
US release date: 6.17.88

1989, Cinetel, Rated R

Judd Nelson
Leo Rossi
Meg Foster

Directed by William Lustig
Written by Phil Alden Robinson

Arthur "Buck" Taylor (Judd Nelson) is a mentally unstable youth, the son of a police officer, whose rejection by the police academy triggers a homicidal rampage through the streets of L.A. He becomes known as the "Sunset Killer" and his m.o. is to force his victims to participate in their own deaths. Then he leaves a calling card -- a page torn out of the phone book with the victim's name underlined, and a taunting message for the police. Two police detectives are assigned to catch him: Sam Dietz (Leo Rossi), a New Yorker just promoted from uniform, and jaded veteran Bill Malloy (Robert Loggia). Dietz is a real go-getter, he takes each killing personally, and wants to pull out the stops to end the rampage. Malloy seems ambivalent; perhaps he's seen too many dead bodies, and is just going through the motions. Gradually, though, some of Dietz's dedication and idealism wears off on Malloy -- right before the Sunset Killer guns him down. Dietz finally figures Taylor out -- the young man is trying to prove that he's smarter than the police department that rejected him, and in so doing gets back at his father, who mercilessly abused him every time he failed to live up to dad's expectations.
Relentless is full of good performances, with Nelson and Rossi as standouts -- the former is at times positively chilling in his convincing portrait of the twisted Taylor. And the chemistry between Dietz and Malloy is immediately apparent, their hardboiled, streetwise repartee is the high point of the script written by Phil Alden Robinson (Rhinestone and Field of Dreams). But even these positives can't outweigh one big negative -- we've seen all this before, in countless serial killer flicks, and there aren't many surprises. The ending is particularly predictable, with Taylor targeting Dietz's wife (Meg Foster) and son. And even while Relentless didn't fare all that well on initial release, it did spawn not one but three sequels, all of which featured Rossi.

Eighties Club rating: **

US box office: $7 million
US release date: 8.30.89

Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins
1985, Orion/MGM, Rated PG-13

Fred Ward
Joel Gray
Wilford Brimley

Directed by Guy Hamilton
Written by Christopher Wood from the novels by Richard Sapir & Warren Murphy

Based on the long-lived series of Destroyer novels by Warren Murphy and Richard Sapir, this movie was clearly intended to be the first of several featuring Remo Williams and his mentor, the Korean master assassin, Chiun. A lot of time is spent establishing the origins of Remo Williams -- your average burger-chomping cop selected by a super-secret organization named CURE (which is answerable only to the president) to serve his country as an assassin. His death is faked and he's put through an extraordinary training regimen devised by Chiun, who can dodge bullets and walk on water. Before long, Remo can do likewise, which is a good thing when he's given the task of stopping the villainous George Grove (Charles Cioffi), a munitions master who is putting the lives of America's servicemen at risk with inferior armaments.
What makes the work of Murphy and Sapir stand out in the spy novel genre is their humor -- Remo and Chiun are constantly carping at one another, spouting hilarious one-liners and trying to conceal their mutual regard. This is carried over into the film, thanks to good writing by Christopher Wood (who had done the screenplays for two 007 films, The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker) and exceptional work by Fred Ward and Joel Grey. The latter in particular makes the role of Chiun his own; it's hard to imagine anyone else as the Master of Sinanju. What's flawed is the plot itself; Grove is a second-rate bad guy, and his scheme is not sufficiently outrageous or world-threatening. Then, too, Remo Williams -- even after being trained by Chiun -- doesn't really do anything extraordinary except tiptoe across wet concrete without sinking. The fundamental problem is that Guy Hamilton -- who, like Wood, is a veteran of the Roger Moore era of James Bond films -- takes a tongue-in-cheek approach that doesn't allow for a portrayal of Remo and Chiun as the mercilessly effective killers portrayed in the novels, and that's too bad, because otherwise they come across as little more than bantering buffoons. Hamilton does know how to do an action scene, however; there are several effective sequences, the best being Remo's clash with construction workers hired to kill him atop the scaffolding of the Statue of Liberty (which was being renovated for her 100th birthday in 1986.) Considering the above-average material produced by Murphy and Sapir, Remo Williams was a disappointment, and no doubt many Destroyer fans were relieved that the adventure not only began but also ended here.

Eighties Club rating: **

US release date: 10.11.85

1989, Interscope/Morgan Creek
Rated R

Kiefer Sutherland
Lou Diamond Phillips
Jami Gertz

Directed by Jack Sholder
Written by David Rich

The success of the ultimate buddy cop film, Lethal Weapon (1987), was bound to spawn a host of imitations, and Renegades is clearly that. It was also, we have to assume, a project that hinged on hopes of profiting from the previous teaming of its two male leads, Kiefer Sutherland and Lou Diamond Phillips, in the hit Young Guns (1988). The problem with genre films, especially buddy cop ones, is that they have to follow a certain formula -- and yet, to avoid being too derivative, one has to throw in an original twist or two. The original twist here is that the Phillips character, Hank Storm, is a Lakota Indian who is seeking the gangsters who stole a sacred lance from his tribe. These same gangsters just happen to be the target of undercover cop Buster McHenry (Sutherland). Marino, the head gangster, is a rich, greedy, unfeeling creep who ends up shooting his own girlfriend (Jami Gertz) because she's hanging out with McHenry.  Buster and Hank are reluctant allies, initially, but of course as the film wears on they earn each other's grudging respect. And it probably goes without saying that, in the end, they knock off the bad guys.
Renegades was directed by Jack Sholder, who had previously helmed several horror flicks, including 1985's A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge. His direction is as mediocre as the material he had to work with. (He should have stuck to what he knew, because after this bomb he was relegated to TV movies.) Sutherland and Phillips proved to be good enough actors to survive appearing in this clunker, but Gertz just about deep-sixed her promising career -- (Less Than Zero, The Lost Boys, Listen to Me). The Indian aspect of the movie is misbegotten and campy; twenty years ago this would have been shot as a B western. In the final shootout, Phillips comes charging through the timber on a galloping horse, wielding the sacred lance, prepared to do away with Marino -- and then you'll know, if you hadn't suspected it already, that you've just wasted two hours of your time.

Eighties Club rating: **

US box office: $9 million
US release date: 6.2.89

Repo Man
1984, Edge City, Rated R

Emilio Estevez
Harry Dean Stanton
Sy Richardson

Written & Directed by Alex Cox

This cult classic stars Emilio Estevez as Otto Maddox, a white suburban "punk" who stumbles into a job as a repo man after he's fired from his supermarket stocker job and discovers that his TV-addicted parents gave his entire college fund to a televangelist. With the help of veteran repo men Bud (Harry Dean Stanton) and Lite (Sy Richardson), Otto learns all the tricks of the trade. But nothing can prepare him for the task of repossessing a '64 Chevy Malibu driven by a mad scientist -- a car carrying a mysterious force in the trunk that can disintegrate humans. Government agents, rival repo men and a slightly whacko girl named Leila, who belongs to a cell of UFO hunters aptly disguised as the United Fruitcake Outlet, are after the car, too. As you might imagine, what transpires is a bizarre and at times innovative dark comedy, one that remains of interest to students of the '80s because of its abundant cultural references. (There are so many of these, in fact, that fans of this film claim to find new ones every time they view it.) Of particular value is Repo Man's satirical look at the punk rock scene; needless to say, the soundtrack has long been a favorite of diehard punk rockers. There are many eccentric characters, but Harry Dean Stanton overshadows them all, as he so often does in films in which he appears. Repo Man has its flaws -- too many truncated, even superfluous scenes disrupt the narrative flow, and some of the acting is atrocious -- but whether you love it or hate it, you can't deny that it has certain unique qualities.

Eighties Club rating: **

US box office: $2.3 million
US release date: 3.2.84

"Repo Man Theme Song," Iggy Pop
"Coup D'etat," The Circle Jerks
"TV Party," Black Flag
"See See Rider," Louis Armstrong
"I Just Want To Satisfy," The Juicy Bananas
"Milk Cow Blues," Almost Famous Figures
"Let's Have A War," Fear
(& more; MCA)

Revenge of the Nerds
1984, Interscope, Rated R

Robert Carradine
Anthony Edwards
Julie Montgomery

Directed by Jeff Kanew
Written by Jeff Buhai, Miguel Tehada-Flores & Steve Zacharias

Lewis and Gilbert (Carradine and Edwards) are nerdish high school buddies who go off to college together, there to find that they are doomed to be the objects of constant harassment and ridicule at the hands of the in-crowd, which is populated largely by football team jocks and cheerleader types. Our heroes assemble other nerds on campus and try to form their own fraternity, but are stymied at every turn. Eventually tiring of the relentless humiliation heaped upon them, the nerds plot and carry out their revenge -- installing video cameras in a sorority house and dousing the football team's jock straps with a liquid version of Icy Hot. Meanwhile Lewis uses deception to get Betty (Julie Montgomery), the girlfriend of top jock Stan Gable (Ted McGinley), in the sack -- well, actually, a carnival fun house. He proves himself to be such a sexual champion that Betty dumps Stan and allies herself with ther nerd brigade who, in the end, use their smarts to outscore the jocks in a goofy campus "Olympics," the winner of which controls the student associations committee.
In the Eighties we enjoyed -- or were subjected to, depending on your point of view -- a plethora of teen flicks sets on high school and college campuses in which an outcast hero (occasionally, heroine) must fight for acceptance. The good ones -- like Can't Buy Me Love -- made us think about the consequences of our actions and the necessity of respecting the differences in people. Others -- like Revenge of the Nerds -- can't get past tasteless gags and one-dimensional stereotypes. Still, from a pop culture standpoint, this mindless romp does document the Eighties stereotype of the nerd, and both Carradine and Edwards do a competent job in their roles. Someone had to do it. Now let's move on.
Eighties Club rating: **

US box office: $40.9 million
US release date: 7.20.84

"Burning Down The House," Talking Heads
"Are You Ready," Ya-Ya
"we Are The Champions," Queen
"Revenge Of The Nerds," The Rubinos
(& more)

Road House
1989, United Artists, Rated R

Patrick Swayze
Kelly Lynch
Sam Elliott

Directed by Rowdy Herrington
Written by David Lee Henry & Hilary Henkin

After TV's North and South and the 1987 hit Dirty Dancing, Patrick Swayze appeared to have a promising career. With his limited acting range, he seemed tailor-made for a Hollywood action hero. There's nothing wrong with that, and great careers have been built on not much more -- just ask Stallone and Schwarzenegger. Unfortunately for Swayze, he wrapped up the Eighties with a series of clunkers -- Tiger Warsaw, Steel Dawn, Next of Kin, and Road House, which may go down in history as the cheesiest drive-in B-movie of the decade. Swayze plays Dalton, the best bouncer in the business, who's hired to clean up a joint called the Double Deuce. Dalton isn't just a pretty face that busts heads for $500 a night -- he has a PhD in philosophy, and utters such insightful gems as "Pain don't hurt" and "In a fight nobody wins." His sidekick-mentor is Wade Garrett (Sam Elliott), a grizzled warrior-prophet, and his foe is Brad Wesley (played with wicked glee by Ben Gazzara), whose goons force all the businesses in town to pay protection money. Oh, and the love interest is the elegant Dr. Elizabeth Clay (Kelly Lynch) who, by falling in love with Dalton, proves the old adage that opposites attract.
Road House is, essentially, a modern-day Western, with Dalton being the loner-hero who rides into town (in a Mercedes rather than on a horse) and single-handedly cleans out the bad guys, who in turn look and behave like rejects from a second-rate, deep-fried Burt Reynolds flick of the '70s. There's nothing inherently wrong with a film that's heavy on the testosterone and light on the brain cells, unless it takes itself too seriously. Only Gazzara seems to realize that the project is comic-book quality, and plays it with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Directed by an uninspired Rowdy Herrington (who did a much better job with 1988's Jack's Back), Road House does have at least one thing to offer -- the music of Canadian guitar player Jeff Healey. Healey appears as Cody, who, with his band, must perform each night behind in a cage made of chain link. That illustrates just how bad a place the Double Deuce really is. In fact, it's just the kind of joint where they would show a movie like Road House. As for Swayze, he found redemption in 1990's Ghost, and heaven knows he needed it.

Eighties Club rating: *

US box office: $30 million
US release date: 5.19.89

"Roadhouse Blues," Jeff Healey
"(There's A) Fire In The Night" Alabama
"These Arms Of Mine," Otis Redding
"All My Ex's Live In Texas"
George Strait
(& more)

Rocky III
1982, MGM, Rated PG

Sylvester Stallone
Carl Weathers
Mr. T

Written & Directed by
Sylvester Stallone

In Rocky our underdog hero battles for the heavyweight championship and loses. In Rocky II he battles Apollo Creed and triumphs. Now he's back for a third go-round, and his adversary this time is the vicious Clubber Lang, played with wicked relish by Mr. T, former Muhammad Ali bodyguard (and, later, star of the TV action series The A-Team.) As world heavyweight champ, Rocky Balboa has become a little too cocky. His brother-in-law Paulie (Burt Young) and his trainer Mickey(Burgess Meredith), are worried, and rightly so. Rocky's lost his edge. Clubber Lang is hungry. And when they meet, Rocky goes down in embarrassing defeat. It doesn't help that he's devastated by the untimely demise of his beloved trainer. But all is not lost. Enter Apollo Creed, who wants to resurrect the old Rocky so that he challenge Clubber Lang, a rematch that is the climax of this sometimes hokey but relentlessly entertaining film.
Written and directed by star Sylvester Stallone, Rocky III turns the concept into a formula, and the formula into a franchise. (There would be two more sequels, each as formulaic as this entry.) Stallone knew what his audience wanted: chiefly, ample opportunity to see him flex his muscles as he's knocked down and then gets back up to win the day. The fight scenes are certainly not in the same class as those provided by Raging Bull or Homeboy, but then this is fantasy we're talking about here, not reality. There's a healthy dose of the usual machismo, the required number of snappy one-liners, and a driving Bill Conti score featuring the big hit "Eye Of The Tiger" by Survivor (Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated for Best Song.) The really good actors -- Meredith, Young and Talia Shire, who makes but a few token appearances as Mrs. Rocky -- have very limited screen time; on the other hand, a highlight of the film is the charity match between Rocky and wrestling star Hulk Hogan. Rocky III was a purely commercial venture from start to finish, and Stallone delivers. Okay, it's not Hamlet, but there's a place for this kind of adrenaline-pumping, blood-and-guts melodrama. So it's wives' night out while the boys break out the beer and popcorn, prop their feet up, and cheer on an American icon as he battles for truth, justice, and the American Way.

Eighties Club rating: ***

US box office: $122.8 million
US release date: 5.28.82

"Eye Of The Tiger," Survivor
"Pushin'," Frank Stallone
"Take You Back," Frank Stallone

Romancing the Stone
1984, 20th Century Fox, Rated PG

Michael Douglas
Kathleen Turner
Danny DeVito

Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Diane Thomas

Joan Wilder (Kathleen Turner) is a very successful romance writer who, ironically, leads a loveless, mundane lifestyle in the Big Apple. When her sister is kidnapped by a couple of con artists (Danny DeVito, Zach Norman), Joan must travel to a Latin American banana republic to deliver the ransom: a treasure map, -- and gets more adventure than she ever dreamed of. Pursued by Zolo, a corrupt and homicidal police officer, and aided by a roguish adventurer named Jack Colton (Michael Douglas), Joan is catapulted from one thrilling escapade to another. Naturally, she falls in love with Jack, and their romance is every bit as passionate and unpredictable as any Joan has ever concocted for her novels. But is Jack really in love with her, or is he just "romancing the stone" -- playing Joan in order to acquire the treasure -- a priceless emerald -- for himself?
Romancing the Stone was one of the biggest blockbusters of 1984, and the first big hit under the belt of director Robert Zemeckis, who would follow this film with an even bigger one, Back to the Future. The story itself is comic book lite, but then, in the Eighties -- the decade of Batman, Indiana Jones and the Beverly Hills Cop -- that was not a liability. This is a romantic, slam-bang frolic, part adventure, part romance, part comedy, thrilling where it needs to thrill, funny where it needs to produce laughs. Kathleen Turner, who had sizzled in Body Heat, shows she has real comedic talent as she makes the most of the Joan Wilder role, subtly transforming her character from a meek, four-eyed librarian-type to a sultry, two-fisted heroine. Michael Douglas is somewhat miscast as a character cut from the same cloth as Indy Jones -- being a romantic leading man and action hero has never been his strong suit as an actor -- but the film is strong enough in its other aspects to mask those shortcomings. Danny DeVito is at his funniest as the conman Ralph, managing to be both despicable and loveable at the same time. If it's pure escapist fare that you're looking for, you could do a lot worse than Romancing the Stone.

Eighties Club rating: ***

US box office: $74.9 million
US release date: 3.30.84

Golden Globes
Best Picture - Comedy/Musical
Best Actress - Comedy/Musical
(Kathleen Turner)

Running on Empty
1988, Warner, Rated PG13

River Phoenix
Christine Lahti
Judd Hirsch
Martha Plimpton

Directed by Sidney Lumet
Written by Naomi Foner

Without question one of the best films of the decade, Running on Empty is richly textured in every respect.  Naomi Foner's masterful screenplay rightly earned her an Oscar nomination.  A director who occasionally becomes too intrusive in his art, Sidney Lumet exercises restraint with this effort and produces a subtle and highly effective cinematic treat.  The acting is superb all around, but River Phoenix stands out as Danny, the teenage son of Arthur and Annie Pope, Sixties radicals who blew up a napalm factory 17 years ago and have been on the run ever since.  This fugitive family have only themselves to rely on, moving from town to town and from one set of identities to the next, trying to stay one step ahead of the FBI and working to make the best of a bad situation.  
Everything changes when Danny meets a music teacher who encourages him to pursue his talent as a pianist -- and the teacher's daughter, Lorna (Martha Plimpton) whose love forces him, and his parents, into making difficult choices about the future, not an easy task when you've lived your life from day to day.  An Oscar nomination for best supporting actor went to Phoenix for this performance, and he demonstrates the incredible talent we caught glimpses of in Stand By Me (1985).
This film is all about devotion and sacrifice and is filled with memorable scenes, with perhaps the best being when Annie (Christine Lahti) meets her father, who has not seen her for 16 years, to ask him to take Danny in so that her son can have a normal life, even though she knows this will mean that she may never see him again.  Running on Empty is a suspenseful and moving masterpiece, and the fate of Danny Pope stands as a metaphor for a nation that, in the 1980s, finally healed itself from the wounds inflicted upon it by the debacle of Vietnam.

Eighties Club rating: ****

US box office: $2.8 million
US release date: September 1988

Golden Globes
Best Screenplay (Naomi Foner)

Ruthless People
1986, Touchstone, Rated R

Danny DeVito
Bette Midler
Judge Reinhold

Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker & Jerry Zucker
Written by Dale Launer from a story by O. Henry

Sam Stone (Danny DeVito) wants to murder his overweight nag of a wife Barbara (Bette Midler) so that he can set up shop with his sexy mistress Carol (Anita Morris.) But before he can do the dastardly deed, Barbara is abducted by a pair of bumbling kidnappers, Ken and Sandy Kessler (Judge Reinhold and Helen Slater.) They want to make Sam pay because he stole Sandy's idea for a spandex miniskirt and made a fortune. Sam can't believe his luck -- and has no intentions of paying, taking Ken at his word that Barbara will be killed if the ransom demands aren't met. But  then Carol and her numbskull accomplice Earl (Bill Pullman) try to blackmail Sam, believing he has carried out his threat to murder Barbara. When the police accuse Sam of faking the kidnapping, Sam suddenly finds himself desperately trying to get his wife back, safe and sound. Only problem is, Barbara is now in cahoots with the Kesslers to take Sam to the cleaners financially. It all adds up to hilarious farce -- and one of the funniest comedies of the Eighties.
Directed by Jerry and David Zucker with Jim Abrahams -- the trio who brought us Airplane! and Top Secret! -- Ruthless People (based loosely on O. Henry's Ransom of Red Chief) is a textbook case of how to make a comedy. The characters are bigger than life. The dialogue (written by an inspired Dale Launer, his first produced screenplay) sparkles while ringing absolutely true to human nature. The sight gags are perfectly staged. And the film moves along at such a rapid pace that the viewer is left breathless trying to keep up with every delightfully wicked twist and turn in the plot. Fresh from her triumph in Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Bette Midler does something truly remarkable -- she's even funnier in this movie than in the other. Judge Reinhold (Beverly Hills Cop) and Helen Slater (Supergirl) are perfectly cast as really nice folks trying to be ruthless -- a futile endeavor if ever there was one. And Danny DeVito, one movie (Wise Guys) removed from the TV series Taxi, shines as the sleazy Sam, managing to be despicable and adorable at the same time. If you want to laugh non-stop for about ninety minutes, then Ruthless People is the film for you.

Eighties Club rating: ***

US box office: $71.6 million
US release date: 6.27.86

"Ruthless People Theme"
Mick Jagger
"Modern Woman," Billy Joel
"Give Me The Reason"
Luther Vandross
"Dance Champion," Kool & The Gang
"Stand On It," Bruce Springsteen
(& more; Epic)

American Comedy Awards
Funniest Actress (Bette Midler)