ricochet-originalIs this film available for rent on Netflix Watch Instant and/or through the iTunes Store?  Ricochet is not available for rent through Netflix Watch Instant or the iTunes Store.

Starring: Denzel Washington, John Lithgow, Kevin Pollak, & Ice-T

Directed by: Russell Mulcahy

Screenplay by: Fred Dekker, Menno Meyjes, & Steven E. de Souza

The 80’s and 90’s were a wasteland of bad action movies. For every Beverly Hills Cop, First Blood, Lethal Weapon, and Die Hard, you had vile crap like Commando, Tango & Cash, Terminal Velocity, and just about any Jean-Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal movie. The action genre of the 80’s and 90’s were what superhero films are to us today. Like superheroes, the protagonists of these films were nearly invincible and they always prevailed against whatever odds were stacked against them. Frequently, but not always, our hero was a cop or in some type of law enforcement (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, Tango & Cash, The Last Boy Scout, Striking Distance, Beverly Hills Cop).

Released in 1991, Ricochet is an example of the action genre that blends in elements of the thriller genre that was also popular during this time (Fatal Attraction, Basic Instinct, The Hand that Rocks the Cradle, & Cape Fear). The film was made by renowned music video director Russell Mulcahy, who earned his stripes with the popular cult fantasy film, Highlander (1986). The star of Ricochet, Denzel Washington, was still a fairly new actor whose stock had risen considerably a few years back with an Academy Award for his work in Glory (1989). Opposite the actor starred John Lithgow, who was in his pre-3rd Rock From the Sun days and had earned himself a reputation for playing badass, ruthless villains (Cliffhanger, Raising Cain).

Ricochet starts off in 1983 when Nicholas Styles (Washington) is a young law student and rookie cop. While on patrol one night, he and his partner (Bay Area native Kevin Pollak) come face to face with professional hitman Earl Talbot Blake (Lithgow), who has just finished a job. Styles apprehends Blake, which earns Styles considerable media attention, a promotion to detective, and a promised position in the District Attorney’s office. Meanwhile, Blake gets sent off to prison, where he plots his revenge against Styles. Fast forward to the present day and Styles is now a rising star in the D.A.’s office, a well-respected member of his community, and a hopeful candidate for the mayoral position in Los Angeles. With the help of his Aryan Brotherhood cellmates, Blake finally escapes from prison and fakes his own death so no one will know he is on the loose. Blake then puts into motion his plan to ruin Styles’ career and family. Through a series of planned events, Styles goes from renowned attorney to a disgraced man who loses his job and is about to lose his family. In the face of widespread scrutiny, Styles decides to fight back and bring Blake to justice.

The basic premise of Ricochet is not a bad one. Hero has everything because of villain. Villain takes everything away from hero and hero fights back to restore his name and reputation. However, what makes Ricochet not ultimately work is (1) how unlikeable Denzel Washington’s character is, (2) the number of implausible situations that take you out of the film, and (3) how cheap and low-budget the film looks.

We see Denzel Washington as a very ambitious and successful cop, attorney, and family man who experiences a meteoric rise in his career. However, he is so preoccupied with his career that he leaves little time for his family. In developing the protagonist, it is difficult to straddle that line between showing the character as being overly ambitious to the point of not paying attention to his family while also siding with him against the villain. The danger is in portraying the protagonist in such an unfavorable light that even when he demonstrates remorse, you remain unsympathetic to him. Ricochet does not pull this off. Nicholas Styles comes off as being arrogant and smarmy. He does not seem to really care about anyone, including his friend/partner (John Cothran, Jr.) after he is killed by Blake. When everyone has forsaken Styles and he is all alone, only then does he turn to his drug dealer friend (Ice-T, who I wish was in the film for much longer, especially after the great performance he gave in New Jack City, which also came out in 1991) for help. Before his luck turned, Styles would not have anything to do with him. Despite how ruthless he is, there were moments during the film that I actually sympathized with Blake more than with Styles.

Ricochet also suffers from an excessive number of implausible setups that take you out of the film. While in prison, Blake engages in a vicious fight against his Aryan Brotherhood cellmate (an unrecognizable Jesse Ventura) with swords and makeshift armor. The fight ends with Blake driving his sword into his cellmate and killing him. Its well known that prison guards turn a blind eye at times when a prisoner is about to get killed, but to stage an elaborate swordfight in the prison mess hall where a prisoner ends up killed that results in no consequences is too far-fetched. Similarly far-fetched is the seemingly lax restrictions Blake has to move about the prison (e.g. when he is photocopying Styles’ face in what looks like a copy room). These implausibilities would probably be unnoticeable had the film been stronger, but when the film fails to entertain you, you begin to notice all the small inconsistencies.

For a music video director, I was very surprised how cheap and uninspired Russell Mulcahy makes Ricochet look. Granted, I saw the film on an early generation DVD version and the picture looked one step removed from VHS quality. However, you can still discern the poor aesthetic quality and style of the film. Overall, Ricochet has a flat look, albeit colorful, that reminded me of a straight-to-video action film or a TV movie. The sets look generic and uninteresting and the action choreography lacks any energy or creativity.

A recurring element in all of Russell Mulcahy’s films is a clearly defined struggle between the protagonist and the villain. The villains in Mulcahy’s films are not complex in the sense of having any redeemable qualities. They are evil through and through and they want nothing more than to destroy the hero. By far, the best thing about Ricochet is John Lithgow’s performance. He is intelligent, cold, crude, and very ruthless. Lithgow has some great lines, one of which is in the clip I have provided below.

Ricochet is certainly over the top and it often times bleeds into being ludicrous. With well-known proven talent such as action producer Joel Silver (Lethal Weapon, The Matrix), action writer Steven E. de Souza (Die Hard), composer Alan Silvestri (who composes a great opening score in this film), and a talented cast of actors, this film sorely needed a talented director. In my opinion, Russell Mulcahy is the kind of director who only had one good film in him and that film was Highlander. Otherwise, I have yet to be impressed by his work except for maybe The Shadow and that is only because of the source material and Alec Baldwin’s performance.

By the way, its interesting to note that one of the news reporters in this film is named Gail Wellans, who is the same reporter character in Die Hard (also written by Steven E. de Souza).