Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Forgotten Denzel Washington: Ricochet (1991)

I've always liked Denzel Washington as an actor but I've never really warmed to many of his serious roles. I far prefer him when he's in slightly trashy genre flicks like Virtuosity or Fallen that are way beneath his talent. The advantage with using Washington in these types of films that he still treats his roles as if it's Malcolm X or any of his other Oscar-nominated roles. Whereas most high profile actors slumming it would give a half hearted performance and cash their pay cheque, Washington always gives 110% in whatever he's in.
Ricochet was released in 1991 and directed by Russell Mulcahy (interestingly the same year he directed the infamous Highlander 2). The film sees Washington play Nick Styles, a cocky young beat cop who manages to arrest a notorious criminal called Blake (John Lithgow) purely by being at the right place and the right time. Flash forward seven years and Styles has worked his way up to become the Assistant DA and has a wife and two daughters. Meanwhile Blake has spent the whole time in prison, plotting his revenge. He makes a daring (and pretty unbelievable) escape and quickly sets about putting his plan in action. He's not going to kill Styles he's going to systematically destroy his life and those around him instead.

As I said before Washington is great in this, particularly the early scenes where he plays the younger version of his character. The scene in which he distracts Lithgow by taking off his clothes (...not as gay as it sounds) is expertly handled with some crackingly good dialogue. There's some also nice support from Kevin Pollak who plays Styles partner. Pollak's such a great character actor and always a welcome addition to any film. John Lithgow, I've seen play a villain twice before (in Buckaroo Banzai and Cliffhanger) but nothing prepared me for his performance here. He's deliriously unhinged as Blake and gets some very funny (and profane) one liners that will almost certainly make you laugh out loud.

Eighties action movies were always pretty crazy and silly, particularly those produced by Joel Silver such as Commando and Action Jackson. Heroes were almost bulletproof, Villains could do anything and with each successive film the plots got more and more unrealistic. Ricochet is probably where it reached breaking point. There's so many ridiculous plot developments and some of them are completely unnecessary. For instance did we really need a scene with Lithgow in the prison basement having a homemade sword fight with another prisoner, while they are both wearing books taped to their bodies like samurai armour. Probably not. If there's a complaint to be made about the film it that it didn't need to be so outlandish.

That said, you've got to love the fact that the film goes one step beyond. Anyone complaining that all action films nowadays are watered down PG-13 rubbish should go back and watch this. It should come as no surprise that the screenplay was written by Steven E De Souza, he of Die Hard fame (in fact he even re-uses the reporter character Gail Wallens from that earlier film presumably to tie both films into the same continuity!). There's some good twists and turns throughout the film and you could never call it dull. It's only towards the end, when Ice-T's lovable drug dealer character is re-introduced, that things start to get a little cliched and convoluted. 
Also the story does get pretty dark in places, darker than I thought it would go but like all 80s films, everything is wrapped up and sorted out by the end. Ricochet is a breezy little flick that's perfect for late night viewing with your brain half switched off. The performances are uniformly great, the action is ridiculous and the story is gripping. What more could you ask for?


  1. Well, I for one haven't forgotten about this little mini-masterpiece. In fact, I think it just may be Denzel's finest hour. His later work is definitely missing the ballsy WTF pizzazz Ricochet had.

  2. I'd say Virtuosity was Washington's attempt to recapture the awesomeness (I'll be covering that one soon). The bit in that where his arm gets blown off and he carries on shooting people is amazing.

  3. I love this film! It's a shame though that it's unavailable here in the states in widescreen, as it shows all of Mulcahey's visual strengths. Actually, I think this is without a doubt one of his best films, and shocking to think he made this the same year as Highlander 2. lol. I really need to see this one again, it's been way too long. And if you wanna see Lithgow as a villain again, I strongly suggest seeing De Palma's excellent and brilliant Blow Out with John Travolta.

    Was this really PG 13?! Even with that scene with the prostitute in the empty pool? Wow!

  4. Nah, I think this is almost definitely an R. I was just saying studios don't make action-packed, swearing, twisted movies like this anymore.

    Yeah, the lack of widescreen is such a shame because the pan and scan copies make everything so close-up (even more so in this film). I'm glad Highlander 2 was just a blip for Mulcahy because I really enjoy his work. They're always really cheesy and over-the-top movies - but in a good way - and really what else would you expect from a former Duran Duran music video director.

    Must, must get on watching DePalma's back catalogue. Ordering Blow Out right now.

  5. Great! Can't wait to get your thoughts on Blow Out! I myself only discovered it recently after Criterion released it in a beautiful package and I can't believe I waited so long "OR" that it's not considered a classic! I can't understand why it doesn't have a much, much bigger reputation than it does.

  6. I've actually came across this once or twice on cable channels but never really watched it. I'll have to get it a chance sometime now.

    I like Denzel Washington too although I actually haven't seen him in too much. I saw Virtuosity awhile back but don't really remember much about it besides Denzel and RUssell Crowe being in the flick so I'm looking forward to reading your write-up on it.

    The only Russell Mulcahy movie I've seen is the original Highlander which I love. What else by him should I check out?

  7. Jason: As soon as I've watched it I'll post up a review.

    Chris: Virtuosity is just a lot of trashy fun. I'll post that up soon.

    To be honest, Highlander is easily the peak of Mulcahy's career but he's always makes pretty fun, pulpy movies like The Shadow or Resident Evil: Extinction.