Ricochet Proves John Lithgow Plays the Creepiest Bad Guys
By Nick Nadel
The acclaimed actor has played everyone from an alien hiding out in suburbia to Winston Churchill. But what he truly excels at is portraying obsessive, ice cold villains in thrillers like this 1991 Denzel Washington cat-and-mouse cop flick.
Is there anything John Lithgow can’t do? The acclaimed actor has played everyone from an alien hiding out in suburbia to Winston Churchill. But what he truly excels at is portraying obsessive, ice cold villains in thrillers like Raising Cain, Blow Out and the 1991 Denzel Washington cat-and-mouse cop flick, Ricochet.
Washington plays Nick Styles, a cop who becomes a public hero after amateur video leaks of his daring (and partially nude) take down of murderous crook Earl Blake (Lithgow) during a tense hostage situation. Styles’ profile quickly rises as he becomes a star assistant district attorney while Blake rots in prison. (The courtroom scenes let Washington show off his knack for oratory.) Blake eventually busts out of jail in a gloriously violent scene involving a dart gun and a chainsaw, and proceeds to systemically take apart Styles’ shining career.
Lithgow brings simmering menace to what could’ve been a cartoonish villain role, while Washington nails Styles’ paranoia and desperation as his life slowly unravels. (Only Denzel Washington could sell the scene where Styles rants and raves on a rooftop while wearing lipstick during a phony suicide attempt.) The cast is filled with great supporting actors, including Kevin Pollak (who breaks out his signature impressions of William Shatner and Columbo) as Styles’ wisecracking partner, Mary Ellen Trainor as a tabloid reporter and Ice-T as a gang member with a heart of gold. (Be sure to listen to Ice-T rap the title theme song over the credits.)
One of several blockbuster actioners from super-producer Joel Silver (Predator, Lethal Weapon), Ricochet is a wild thriller brimming with over-the-top violence, insane plot turns (Blake forces a drugged up Styles to make a sex tape with a prostitute; Styles pulls a gun on a clown — while wearing a bathrobe), and pulpy dialogue that the cast delivers with flair. (After his prison escape, Blake shoots his lawyer and exclaims, “You’re fired!”)
Director Russell Mulcahy’s camera never lets up, angling itself over Los Angeles to keep the viewer on the same high wire that Washington and Lithgow’s characters teeter on. The script by Steven E. de Souza brims with the same edgy humor the writer brought to Die Hard and 48 Hours, taking broad jabs at everything from blowhard talking heads to the burgeoning reality TV genre (Washington’s hero cop is featured on “Busted,” a spoof of the then-hot new show Cops.)
Made at the point in Denzel Washington’s career when he was still green as a leading man, Ricochet is catnip for fans of the edgy genre fare (The Equalizer, Man on Fire) that serve as palette cleansers for the actor between award-bait roles. Meanwhile, Blake is another in a long line of memorable bad guys for Lithgow, who would go on to face off against Sylvester Stallone in Cliffhanger before revealing his comedic chops in 3rd Rock from the Sun. (Washington and Lithgow would work together again in The Pelican Brief, though with far less bloody results.)
Early ‘90s in the best possible ways (Ice-T brags about his oversized portable phone, Washington and Pollak trash-talk each other during a game of streetball), Ricochet is a blast of action movie cool from the era when studios knew how to pair up two strong leads, and let them run wild.