Ricochet (1991) is the product of two authors, each highly adept at the action genre. Steven E. de Souza, who wrote the screenplay for Ricochet, had already written such popular favorites of the action genre as Commando (1985), The Running Man (1987), 48 hrs. (1982), and Die Hard (1989). To direct de Souza’s maximalist screenplay producer Joel Silver enlisted Russell Mulcahy, best known for his bonkers fantasy actioner Highlander (1986). So it should come as no surprise that Ricochet, the product of this collaboration, is a film that matches its insanity with its violence to great excess.
Action movies, generally speaking, usually push the envelope of what an audience is willing to accept as reality as the narrative progresses. Ricochet, in this sense, starts off in that unreal place where any other action film would end. The plot begins when police officer Nick Styles (Denzel Washington), stripped to his underwear, arrests the psychopathic Earl Talbot Blake (John Lithgow). In prison, Blake plots his elaborate revenge on Styles while the hero cop ascends the ranks and becomes the Assistant District Attorney. After a sword fight and a harrowing escape from prison, Blake sets about dismantling Styles life, staging one bizarre scandal after another.
Essentially the filmmakers take the third act of Dirty Harry (1971) and stretch it out for the bulk of the film, pushing every imaginable limit. Set pieces like the aforementioned sword fight are equaled in their insanity with dialogue like “He looks like he just shit himself. I can’t wait to look”. Everything about Ricochet is high octane, even when it shouldn’t be. As Styles’ partner and best friend (Kevin Pollak) is mortally wounded by Blake his last words are something like “I guess Blake must be alive since he’s killed me”.
But what does it say that the only way that Styles can defeat his nemesis and clear his name is by throwing his lot in with drug kingpin Odessa (Ice-T)? Is Ricochet advocating vigilantism because the criminal justice system is either corrupt or ineffective? Or is organized street crime the only place that de Souza can imagine a Black man finding justice? The film, preoccupied with sadistic spectacles and campy performances, can be read both ways simultaneously, revealing an ideology that doesn’t seemed to have changed since the seventies. The truths that motivate de Souza’s reasoning and the genre as a whole permeate every frame of Ricochet, adding a real social and political urgency to this unhinged film. Ricochet fails because de Souza’s script isn’t imaginative enough to avoid reinforcing these assumptions about race.
Yet Ricochet fails beautifully like a car crash in slow-motion. Mulcahy keeps the film moving so fast that the absurdity of it all hardly has time to register. Ricochet is a bad movie that is so unique, especially for a major Hollywood blockbuster, that even at its most grotesque it’s still endlessly fascinating. Dark, maniacal, and gory, Ricochet nevertheless sticks to its fanciful tone of good old fashioned fun. This is a film that must be seen to be believed and once it has been seen it is never forgotten.