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Down and Out in Beverly Hills, Off Beat, and Ruthless People

"Producer Postscript" is a feature where Charlene can talk about the Touchstone movies that Mike, and his co-host, Chad, cover in their podcast "Out of Touchstone".  Charlene is more of the silent partner in the venture (she helps produce the episodes), so she's blogging her thoughts on these films for the website.

Out of Touchstone Podcast: Episode 3 "Midler Mania"

Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986)

I've seen this film described as a comedy, but although it is a well-conceived satire, I found the thought-provoking depictions of the characters to be more intriguing than humorous.  The premise is already curious - a homeless man named Jerry tries to drown himself in the pool of a rich family in Beverly Hills.  The patriarch of the family - Dave - rescues him and offers to help him get back on his feet.  Jerry instead helps out all the members of the family by allowing them to look into themselves and discover what is making them unhappy.

The story is built on characters and family drama, so the plot is light as it revolves around the goals and aspirations of the characters.  And I enjoyed discovering what made each person tick.  Their issues are stereotypical though - the father (Dave) is feeling trapped by his success and his career, his wife (Barb) turns to shopping and spiritual gurus for self-fulfillment, when all she needs is sexual release, the son Max is unhappy and acting out because unsure of his sexuality, and the daughter Jenny can't find a boyfriend is anorexic.  Dave is also having an affair with the maid, and in a more unique twist, the family dog is also unhappy and Jerry helps there too.

With all the drama film is a strange contrast in tones - there is some comedy but with heavy-handed social commentary on racism, poverty, marriage, and sexual orientation.  These are all topics that are touched on, but not really illuminated or examined well.  The film does make you think about these things though, and that is probably a plus in the social landscape of 1986.

After I finished watching this movie, I wasn't sure how I felt about it.  It's not a film I would like to watch again, but I did find it interesting, and it is probably an effective satire - it makes you a little uncomfortable and a little sad, but you also wonder and root for these flawed characters.

Off Beat (1986)

This is a film about a charming, clueless everyman named Joey, who's best friend is a police officer and in a variety of unlikely occurrences, Joey impersonates his friend Abe in a police dance recital.  (Is that a thing??). I did enjoy this movie because the conflict was amusing, and the characters were fun, but the plot ran out of steam about mid-way, and it was hard to keep up my interest in the story.

There were some curious aspects to this film that stood out to me.  Cops, in general, are not seen in a very positive light - surprising given that they are the main focus in the story.  The cops are very reactive and aggressive - they don't give me a lot of faith in the institution.  The female cop and love interest for Joey was treated very poorly throughout.  As a woman, she was made to feel that she should not be an officer, but should stay at home and tend to the babies.  And in her relationships - moreso in the toxic one she has before Joey - she is treated very possessively.

Judge Reinhold as Joey is a very likable character, but I thought it strange and a failing in the story that all the things he does - ruin an undercover drug bust for his friend, continuing to impersonate a police officer every opportunity he gets, lying to Rachel, who he would like to have a relationship with, and in the climax of the film he gets involved in a bank robbery - has no consequence for him.  These are all terrible decisions, and yet he never seems bothered by his actions and nothing negative comes from what he does.  It bothered me because it seems so unfair.

The film has a fun premise, and some great moments, but the pacing is slow and the thin plot is padded out unnecessarily.  Out of the Touchstone Films I have seen so far, this film seems the most obscure, yet despite my issues with it, I did find it enjoyable.

Ruthless People (1986)

This is a black comedy directed by Jim Abrahams and David and Jerry Zucker.  Danny DeVito plays Sam Stone, a millionaire who hates his wife, played by Bette Midler.  When his wife is kidnapped by two rather likable people who are only out to revenge Sam for stealing their million-dollar fashion idea, Sam couldn't care less.  The film then dives into a farce where Sam is eager for the kidnappers to kill his wife, the kidnappers can't understand why he doesn't want to pay, Sam's mistress tries to blackmail Sam, and the police are forced into arresting Sam for the murder of his wife.  This movie is hilarious and well-written.  By far the film I've enjoyed the most since starting this Touchstone Pictures venture.  The plot is convoluted with so many characters and motivations, but it all ties together neatly, and the resolution is as satisfying as it is funny.  I really can not praise this movie enough!

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