- Carson Cook
For Your (Re)Consideration: Ricochet
Welcome to For Your (Re)Consideration, our ongoing series in which our staff will make the case for a film they feel is underseen or underappreciated relative to the canon. Please note that there will be a higher likelihood of spoilers in this series given that it will typically cover older movies — read on at your own risk!
Here at Rough Cut Cinema, our monthly spotlight often provides the perfect excuse for me to do some catch-up on major blind spots in a filmography or genre. When we landed on Denzel — a spotlight shortlist contender several times already — I figured I might be able to check off some boxes regarding both his prestige fare (American Gangster, Glory) and his shoot-em-ups (Man on Fire, the two Equalizers). But as I started making my watchlist by working my way down his filmography, I came across a movie whose premise immediately launched it to the forefront of my schedule.
Sandwiched in between two of Denzel’s directorial efforts as the 37th most popular Denzel Washington starrer on Letterboxd (apologies to The Great Debaters and Antwone Fisher) is a little film called Ricochet from 1991, which is described as follows:
HE’S A COP ACCUSED OF MURDER. AND THE ONLY MAN WHO KNOWS HE’S INNOCENT IS THE KILLER WHO FRAMED HIM.
An attorney is terrorized by the criminal he put away years ago when he was a cop.
This is very much a “you had me at hello” kind of logline for me, but it gets even better once you look at the talent involved. I was mostly unfamiliar with director Russell Mulcahy, outside of the entirely forgettable but eminently misquotable cult classic Highlander, but once you start reading the billing Ricochet becomes a must see: Denzel (!), John Lithgow (!!), Ice-T (!!!), and A Few Good Men’s very own Kevin Pollak?! Sounds like money in the bank to me.
Fortunately for me, Ricochet was streaming on Cinemax, one of the few Amazon Prime Video add-on channels I hadn’t burnt my free trial of yet. With generally decent reviews and fun cast in a genre I have a very high tolerance for, I figured there would be a lot worse ways to spend a Wednesday night.
Turns out that was an understatement — upon finishing Ricochet I have three major questions:
What the hell did I just watch?
Why does no one ever talk about this movie?
Why has no one told ME IN PARTICULAR that I should watch this?
I kid you not, this thing is one of the most deranged movies I’ve ever seen. But I mean that in the best possible way! Let me set the stage for you:
We start out with Denzel and Pollak playing pick-up basketball with a heavily-mulleted Ice-T, a sequence noteworthy for the very obvious stunt doubles who are actually doing all the dunking. The game ends, Denzel flirts, and he and Pollak — who are cops — start their shift patrolling the local carnival. But wait! A redheaded Lithgow is there to doublecross some gangster types, who he brutally murders before jumping out a window and coming face to face with Denzel. A hostage situation with a pedestrian ensues, which involves (deep breath) Denzel stripping down to his underwear to show that he doesn’t have any weapons but then pulling a secret gun out of his specially modified jockstrap and shooting Lithgow in the kneecap at which point Lithgow tries to go after Denzel with the knife that he secreted away but of course Denzel is too quick for him and incapacitates Lithgow before quipping “I guess a Beretta in the butt beats a butterfly in a boot.”
Do you know where we’re at now? MINUTE TWELVE, after which we get, in quick succession, (a) a glorious scene where Lindsay Wagner’s District Attorney has an entire conversation with Denzel while he’s 100% naked in the police station locker room, (b) a prolonged interaction between Lithgow and the prison volunteer librarian (?), (c) a seven-year time jump, and (d) an American Gladiators style prison fight in which Lithgow stabs his white supremicist cellmate through the heart with a makeshift fire poker. All that and there’s still an hour left because the real meat of the plot hasn’t kicked in yet, the bulk of which features Lithgow going to elaborate lengths to ruin Denzel’s reputation by implicating him in a series of crimes — including embezzlement of public funds, theft of pledge drive donations, and child pornography — before giving him the clap, pumping him full of heroin and cocaine, and framing him for murder.
It’s pure pulpy fun, the kind of movie that legitimately doesn’t get made anymore, at least not at this scale — incredibly violent and laughably ludicrous, the closest recent analog I can think of is 2019 trashterpiece Serenity. But it’s also surprisingly competent, not just because actors like Denzel and Lithgow (ham that he is) are professionals, but because Mulcahy is taking the material just seriously enough. Don’t get me wrong, he’s doing A LOT, taking a kitchen sink approach to camera moves and layering everything over with a typically bombastic Alan Silvestri (!!!!) score, but there’s a certain sense of style that wins you over pretty quickly if you’re willing to go along with the plot’s increasingly wild twists and turns (fun fact: this was originally written to be a Dirty Harry movie but was “too grim” for Eastwood, and the reason it’s called Ricochet is because there was going to be a literal bullet ricochet in the initial Denzel/Lithgow showdown — spoiler alert, that got cut but the name stayed, for some reason).
Our “For Your (Re)Consideration” series often seeks to elevate unheralded films that we consider to be much closer to greatness than many of our peers do. That’s not the case here — I’m not trying to sell you on this movie as a secret masterpiece. What I am trying to do is do you a favor: if you’re feeling blue and have an hour forty-five to kill, fire up that Cinemax trial and watch Ricochet. I promise it’ll make your day a whole hell of a lot better.