Movie Review - Citizen Ruth
'Ruth' finds humor in abortion debate

Ruth BY MARGARET A. McGURK
The Cincinnati Enquirer

People keep telling Ruth Stoops she's safe, but she knows better.

So does Alexander Payne, director and co-writer (with Jim Taylor) of Citizen Ruth, a biting satire on the overheated, unhinged ways of people swept up in the battle over abortion.

Ruth makes a juicy target for both sides. A low-life addict who spends her days huffing inhalants and drinking, she's been arrested 16 times, failed drug rehab repeatedly, lost custody of her four illegitimate children and alienated her only relatives.

Busted again, she turns up pregnant. An exasperated judge tells Ruth she'll do felony time if she has the baby, but if she ''sees the doctor'' while awaiting trial, things might go easier for her.

Citizen Ruth
***1/2

(R; profanity, partial nudity, violence)
Laura Dern, Swoosie Kurtz, Mary Kay Place, Burt Reynolds.
Directed by Alexander Payne.
105 minutes.
The Movies Repertory.
Just then, Ruth's new cellmates arrive -- abortion protesters called the Baby Savers. Gail Stoney (Mary Kay Place) persuades her husband Norm (Kurtwood Smith) to bail out Ruth and take her home.

Their vision of what they can do with warm baths, hot meals and prayer turn out to be misguided, just as their happy home turns out to be less idyllic than they proclaim.

A media war erupts around Ruth, who eventually is whisked away by pro-choice lesbian Diane (Swoosie Kurtz) and her partner Rachel (Kelly Preston).

The battle is joined by an unctuous preacher (Burt Reynolds), a stainless-steel feminist (Tippi Hedren), Ruth's mother (Ms. Dern's mother Diane Ladd), and a hard-boiled Vietnam veteran (M.C. Gaines), who cuts through the raging rhetoric with an offer of cold cash.

Ms. Dern's Ruth responds to the furor like a true loser. Her attempts at cunning are mostly mutton-headed, and she keeps tripping over her own impulses. One thing she never does is take a position on the controversy raging around her.

The sharp, inventive script falters a couple of times, particularly by launching a convenient plot twist near the end.

That weakness aside, Citizen Ruth takes a rare gamble and comes up a brave, funny winner.

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