THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
Directed by Russell Mulcahy
“This is a mean, mean movie, something few studios today would have the balls to not only make, but release in theaters.”
There’s something about action movies from the late 80s/early 90s that makes them a unique genre all to themselves. They’re unmistakable in tone, which always feel darker, more brutal than anything made today. Sure, modern CGI allows filmmakers to do anything they want and the stars today can still snap bones the same, but movies don’t have the same edge or style. It just isn’t the same.
In particular, I can’t think of many studio action movies that push the envelope in terms of utter chaos, violence, and pure terror. Case in point 1991’s Ricochet, which came after Denzel Washington won Best Supporting Actor for Glory. This is a mean, mean movie, something few studios today would have the balls to not only make, but release in theaters. It's the type of movie that wants the audience to experience pain and suffering. Yeah, that doesn't sound like much fun, but with Jonathan Lithgow on board, it sorta is.
To start, it’s always important to note that an action/thriller movie is only as its bad guy, and Lithgow could be the perfect psychotic/lunatic/mass murder/bad guy. Here, he plays Earl Talbot Blake, the perfect name for the ultimate scumbag (is there anything better than a three named killer?). See, Blake gets pissed when hotshot cop Nick Styles (a very game Washington) busts him for murder in a very public way. Ten years after, Styles has gone on to become Assistant DA, but Blake hasn’t forgotten. Nope, he’s still in jail and has been stewing over the arrest endlessly, unable to think of anything but. He puts Styles's pictures up. He follows his career. Knows everything about him, which makes him the scariest type of guy imaginable…a single-minded nut who’ll stop at nothing to complete what he deems as his mission. He’ll kidnap kids. He’ll kill cops. He’ll fight Jesse Venture in a knife fight wearing phone books. It makes no difference to him. He only wants revenge. He wants to seriously f*ck his life up beyond repair.
I love seeing Lithgow at work. Seriously, besides Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, and maybe Alan Rickman, there’s no better bad guy out there for the money. He can convey so much hatred and anger in his face that he doesn’t need to say much. But when he does, he has a voice that would scare the shit out of anyone if he was after you. Admit it; you’re a little scared right now just thinking about it.
Beyond Lithgow, I can’t leave out Washington who is at his cocky best. Really you get two Denzels for the price of one as he makes the change from publicy seeking beat cop to tough DA family man. He has a number of great scenes, but perhaps the two most memorable are 1) when he busts Earle he strips down to his boxers in the middle of a Fair in order to prove he’s not carrying a piece and 2) when Earle dopes him up and he’s raped by a hoe with the clap. Ok, and there's the excellent finale too on top of a under construction building. In way, Styles almost becomes a Job like character. Dude can only take so much, especially once Blake’s plan is set into motion. You feel sorry for the guy and can’t wait to see him snap and beat the shit out a grinning Blake.
The shame comes that Lithgow really hasn’t played the villain much since this film. In fact, just two years later he played perhaps his most memorable killer in Cliffhanger, but then things changed with his TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun. His movie roles dried up. He no longer was thought of a the scariest villain of the early 90s. And now he’s stuck with secondary roles (though I know he played the villain in Dexter recently, I haven’t seen it so it doesn’t count) It's bout time to see him scare us all again on the big screen.
Disagree? Buy the DVD and discover for yourself.