Ricochet

Despite its big budget production values--one would expect no less from HIGHLANDER director Russell Mulcahy and DIE HARD producer Joel Silver--RICOCHET is at heart a very mean-spirited exploitation film. That it isn't totally successful seems to be mostly the fault of conflicting aspirations. Two men's lives intersect at a Los Angeles street fair. Earl...read more

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Despite its big budget production values--one would expect no less from HIGHLANDER director Russell Mulcahy and DIE HARD producer Joel Silver--RICOCHET is at heart a very mean-spirited exploitation film. That it isn't totally successful seems to be mostly the fault of conflicting

aspirations.

Two men's lives intersect at a Los Angeles street fair. Earl Talbot Blake (John Lithgow) is a hit man pulling a bloody double cross on some dope dealers. Nick Styles (Denzel Washington) is an ambitious rookie cop with plans to be a lawyer. When the dust clears, Styles has captured Blake and is

the media's darling for a day, thanks to an amateur cameraman's footage of handsome, self-possessed Styles stripping to his underwear to disarm the hostage-holding, shotgun-wielding Blake. Styles' career takes off like a rocket: he's offered a job in the district attorney's office and his hip

media style keeps him in the public eye. His life falls into place; he marries a beautiful woman and they have two lovely daughters. And all the while, Blake languishes in jail, brooding. He too has found a purpose in life: to ruin Styles as completely as possible.

After his bloody escape from prison--which includes cleverly faking his own death--Blake puts into action a plan that links Styles to child pornography, drug abuse and misappropriation of public funds, specifically, the funds he's supposed to be raising for a children's center at the base of the

Watts tower. Blake murders Styles's partner, making it look like a suicide and leaving an incriminating note and a briefcase full of dirty magazines. He kidnaps Styles, forces him to take drugs and have sex with a prostitute, films the whole sorry business, then returns Styles home. The plan is

horribly successful. The media turns on Styles, his boss (Lindsay Wagner) begins to see him as a political liability and even his own wife begins to have her doubts. Styles is forced to turn to his childhood buddy-turned-drug-lord (Ice-T) for help, and must become as vicious as Blake in order to

defeat him.

If RICOCHET were as cruel and sleazy as it could easily be--as cruel as it seems to have been intended to be--it would stand no chance in mainstream theaters, in which case the perfectly respectable cast and glossy production values would be altogether wasted. One need only remember John

Frankenheimer's 52 PICK-UP, adapted from the Elmore Leonard novel and starring Roy Scheider and Ann-Margret, for an object lesson. RICOCHET pulls back at crucial moments, betraying the sadistic influence of Lithgow's Earl Talbot Blake, clearly named by someone who knows that the first step in

insuring your child's sociopathic future is a triple barreled name. Still, despite a disappointingly obvious ending, RICOCHET is a brutally entertaining film. Steven E. DeSousa's screenplay rolls heedlessly over the story's implausibilities and the film manages to score quite respectably on the

sadism scale--Blake's prison break, in which power tools are prominently featured, is a standout--and features several nicely orchestrated explosions, of which the blowing up of a crack factory is far and away the most spectacular.

As befits a studio feature, the performances in RICOCHET are more consistent than they are in low-budget exploitation films, though John Lithgow lacks the maniacal fervor of such actors as Wings Hauser, John Glover and even James Woods. As Blake's voluble flunky Kim, Josh Evans stands out with

his pretentious, high-speed analyses of Blake's every move.

Released with a tell-all trailer and a deceptive advertising campaign, RICOCHET still managed to find an audience, clinging to Variety's top ten list for several weeks. (Violence, profanity, substance abuse, sexual situations, nudity.)

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