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File:Ruthless cover 4819.jpg

 Sam Stone: [to the kidnappers] What do I have to do? Put a gun in your hand, aim and pull your finger down, you spineless wimp?! {{[[[Crowning Moment of Funny]] cue Ken sagging in defeat}}] I dare you to kill her! [hangs up] Now that oughta do it!

A modern update of O Henry's The Ransom Of Red Chief, and the first traditional, non-Rapid-Fire Comedy by Zucker Abrahams Zucker. Businessman Sam Stone (Danny DeVito) and his wife Barbara (Bette Midler) are married, but he hates her, having married her only for her money. In fact, Sam has decided to murder Barbara for her inheritance. But before he can kill her, she gets kidnapped by a nice young married couple, Sandy and Ken Kessler (Helen Slater and Judge Reinhold), who are trying to recoup the money Sam made off of an idea he stole from them. Unfortunately, they're not very good at the kidnapping thing, and fail to be the ruthless people they should be. Sam does everything they tell him not to (like calling the cops), so they will kill Barbara like they threatened to. She ends up being "marked down" several times, but he refuses to pay. Meanwhile Sam's mistress, Carol Dodsworth (Anita Morris), and her other boyfriend, Earl Mott (Bill Pullman), try to blackmail Sam for the murder of Barbara, which hasn't even happened... yet...

Confused yet? Well don't worry, it all makes sense when you see it. The "drama" is all Played for Laughs to make for a very funny movie which features attack dogs, an accidental extortion of the area police chief, a seemingly-unrelated Serial Killer, and quite possibly the stupidest person on the face of the earth (Bill Pullman, in his hilarious first movie role).


  • Animated Credits Opening: The opening credits are a clever series of ruthless acts, like stabbing, poisoning, arson, etc.
  • Auto Erotica: Chief Benton has wild sex with a prostitute at night in his car while Earl Mott is filming both of them in an attempt to prove Sam Stone murdered his wife.
  • Bee-Bee Gun: At one point, after learning of Sam's infidelity and his refusal to pay the ransom, Barbara fantasizes punishing him by covering with honey and taking him to a bee farm.
  • Bill, Bill, Junk, Bill: Sam does almost exactly this when he returns home.

  Sam: "Junk, garbage, garbage, junk..."

 Male buyer: Yeah, uh, what do you think of this one? (winks at girlfriend)

Ken: The Dominator X? The Dominator's a good marketing idea, but it's really not a good speaker. (half-whispers) We give it a 50% markup, so we sell it at 30% off, give the customer the illusion he's getting a deal, and we still make a bundle.

Girlfriend: But it's so big and impressive!

Ken: Size means very little. Bigger is not necessarily better. (Beat) I sound like Dr. Ruth.

Girlfriend: You mean the Dominator's like a, uh--

(at this point, the Male Buyer is looking VERY sheepish and embarrassed)

Ken: Well, the Dominators are very popular with men who like to have bigger... uh...

Girlfriend: Equipment?

Ken: Exactly!

(the Male Buyer looks like he'd rather be anywhere but here now)

 Earl: (seeing his fish) Crockett and Tubbs... they're floatin'!

  • Et Tu, Brute?: "My tux. My silk tux. Et tu, Adolf? Et tu?"
  • Evil Redhead: Carol plans to blackmail Sam, although she's otherwise not that villainous.
  • Fat Suit: Bette Midler wears one for pre-captured Barbara.
  • Flaw Exploitation: Barbara, and how! For example, she frightens Sandy with state execution talk.

 Barbara: It could mean the difference between life, and the chair! (pretends to be electrocuted violently) Or the gas chamber. (makes hissing and gasping sounds) You know, sometimes, the firing squad? They miss all the major arteries! BANG! (slumps as if shot) And you don't die right away, you kinda just... hang on... bleeding... BLEEDING...

(Sandy screams and runs away.)

    • To Ken, who doesn't scare as easily:

 Barbara: (whistles) Nice butt. That's what they'll say.

Ken: I beg your pardon?

Barbara: Nice butt. That's what they'll say on your first day, in the men's club.

Ken: The men's club?

Barbara: Mmm. The San Quentin Country Club. With a cute little rear end like that, you'll be the belle of the ball. Your dance card'll be filled every day. You'll be so popular, making all kinds of new, close friends. Big, ugly, hairy friends! Not that you'll ever see what they look like, 'cause you'll be facing the other way.

Ken: You're very good at this. You should write children's books.

 Sam: Hello? Debbie? Yeah, Debbie's here, who's this? Well, Ralph, uh, Debbie can't talk right now, my dick's in her mouth. How about if I have her call you back later when I'm done? (hangs up) I love wrong numbers.

  • Funny Background Event: Two detectives walk along the boardwalk discussing how great it is that Barbara and Sam have been reunited. Meanwhile, Barbara is kicking Sam's ass behind them.
  • Gambit Pileup:
    • Ken and Sandy kidnap Barbara because her husband Sam stole Sandy's spandex miniskirt idea (and thought Barbara was complicit as well.)
    • Sam wants to goad the kidnappers into killing Barbara so he can inherit her fortune and live happily ever after with his mistress Carol.
    • Carol is pretending to have the hots for Sam so she can blackmail him for the murder.
  • Gilligan Cut: When Barbara arrives at her kidnappers' home.


  • cut to Sam, popping open a champagne bottle*

Sam: [cackles, pours] Bye bye, Barbara!

    • And the first ransom phonecall, where the kidnappers tell Sam not to contact the police or the media or his wife will die. Cut to a huge slew of TV vans and police cruisers around his house.
  • Gold Digger: Sam on Barbara, Carol on Sam.
  • Groin Attack: Barbara fantasizes about this.

 Barbara: Castrate him! I wanna castrate him! [demonstrates]

    • She also does it once or twice to Ken when trying to escape.
  • Heel Face Turn: Of a sort; Barbara isn't exactly a villain, but she is a pretty horrible person at the beginning of the movie. Spending time with the Kesslers, however, and losing weight has an improving effect on her personality and she gradually becomes a much nicer person.
  • Hey, It's That Guy!: President Whitmore with a bad blond dye job as "perhaps the stupidest person on the face of the earth."
  • Home Porn Movie: This is what the "evidence tape" turns out to be.
  • The Immodest Orgasm: The prostitute having sex with Chief Benton:

 Chief Benton: I like a woman who makes a lot of sound.

Prostitute: Uh-huh. Well, I'll scream my head off if you want to, honey. It's your money.

Chief Benton: Yeah, my wife just lays there like a gunnysack.

    • Then when they proceed to 'get it on', her screams are so loud that Earl thinks the murder that's supposed to happen is especially brutal.
  • It's X, I Hate X: The serial killer tells Barbara "You remind me of my mother. I hate my mother."
  • Large Ham: Barbara and Sam.
  • Lima Syndrome: The Kesslers and Barbara.
  • Massive Multiplayer Scam: A simple kidnapping turns into this by the end of the movie.
  • A Match Made in Stockholm: The Kesslers and Barbara, partly due to them being nicer to her than her husband apparently ever was.
  • Mistaken for Murderer: A Justified Trope form in that Sam said he was going to kill Barbara. Things just get really confused over what actually happens.
  • The Mistress: Carol
  • Mood Whiplash: Deliberately by Barbara, who is supposed to pretend to be a helpless kidnappee who needs Sam, but is so vengeful she needs to insult him.

 Barbara: (on phone with Sam) Do you have it all? 2.2 million dollars in unmarked, non-sequential bills? YOU MISERABLE SCUM-SUCKING PIG! Oh, I'm sorry, honey. They made me say that.

Sam: Yeah, it's all here.

Barbara: And you have it all in a briefcase? YOU SCUMBAG, YOU LOWLIFE MOTHERFUCKER! I'm sorry. They made me say that too! (she grins and sips some wine)

    • What really makes the scene is the unabashed, avid grin on Barbara's face during the scene.
  • Most Definitely Not a Villain: Ken and Sandy.
  • Nice Guy: Ken, who refuses to force people to buy the biggest speakers in the store, and even tells them how the store rips people off with them by overpricing. At one point, Ken, infuriated at being manipulated into dropping the ransom again by Sam, decided to be "ruthless" and force a kid barely out of school into buying the expensive speakers even though he can't afford it ("That's the beauty of it. If you can't afford it, fuckin' finance it! Who cares if it's as big as Subaru and costs twice as much, you'll never have to upgrade it and when you die you can be buried in 'em!"), but when he sees said kid has a pregnant wife, he backs off and suggests the bargain speakers again. Dawwwwwww...
  • One Dialogue, Two Conversations: Constantly. Sam talks about the kidnapping but Carol thinks he's talking about the murder he had planned. Carol thinks she's talking about evidence that proves Sam killed his wife but Chief Benton thinks he's being blackmailed into arresting an innocent man. Sam talks about having rough sex but Carol thinks he's threatening to torture and kill her.
  • Only Sane Man: Ken often comes across as this.
  • Pity the Kidnapper: Just at first.
  • Playing Against Type: The directorial variant - this was the first non-Airplane!! style comedy by Zucker-Abrahams-Zucker film, a more traditional comedy.
  • Pretty in Mink: Carol has a dark mink coat and a white mink jacket.
  • Prisons Are Gymnasiums: The Kesslers' basement is for Barbara. She loses a fair amount of weight in a very short time, which actually sparks her friendship with her kidnappers.
    • Though, it's not a well-thought-out execution of the trope. Barbara is there at most two weeks, not enough time to lose 20+ pounds, at least not safely. She also says she's eating less, which makes sense in terms of burning calories, but also begs the question of why she looks slim and fit instead of starved.
  • Prison Rape: Barbara threatens Ken with it; when Sam's thrown in jail, one of the inmates makes a move on him.
  • Sexy Coat Flashing: Carol shows up at Sam's office on his birthday with only a teddy under her mink coat.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: Even Sam, who loathes Barbara, is flabbergasted with how svelte she becomes.
  • Southern Belle: Carol, which is to be expected for a character played by Anita Morris.
  • Split-Screen Phone Call: Twice, between Carol and Chief Benton discussing Sam's arrest and then his release.
  • Springtime for Hitler: Sam tries to get his wife killed by failing to pay the ransom. It doesn't work.
  • Sweater Girl: Carol has a few sweaters.
  • Sympathetic Criminal: The Kesslers. Part of the joke is that the only people who explicitly break the law are also the only completely nice and decent ones.
  • Title Drop: Danced around by Ken, who tells Sandy that they need to "think ruthless."
  • Title Theme Tune: The opening song by Mick Jagger.
  • Threat Backfire: The whole movie revolves around this.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Earl Mott, who among other things inserts himself into a hostage/robbery scenario after the police have already surrounded the scene.

 Lt. Bender: [in megaphone] This is the Los Angeles Police Department.

Earl: [calling] Really?

Lt. Bender: [in megaphone]! We're the National Rifle Association! [cue row of officers aiming guns at Earl, who drops his in shock]

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