Ricochet: Why is this Underrated Denzel Washington Action Flick So Tough To Find?

1991’s Ricochet is a terrific action movie starring Denzel Washington and John Lithgow, but it’s frustratingly hard to find.

Last Updated on February 26, 2024

A lot of really fun movies from the eighties and nineties are tough to get decent copies of. While some of the stories have happy endings, other films seem all but doomed to languish until a niche label like Arrow Video, Kino Lorber, or Unearthed Films gives them the TLC they deserve. So, what’s the title we’re worried is Gone Forever here at JoBlo? A cool little thriller (which I previously wrote up for Best Movie You Never Saw) from 1991 called Ricochet has a pretty impressive pedigree. The movie stars Denzel Washington, John Lithgow, Ice-T, Kevin Pollack and The Bionic Woman herself, Lindsay Wagner, while Highlander’s Russell Mulcahy directs it, is produced by Joel Silver, and is written by Die Hard’s Steven E De Souza. In fact, Ricochet takes place in the same universe as Die Hard, with Mary Ellen Trainor reprising her role as snoopy TV reporter Gale Wallens. 

Indeed, Ricochet was an early attempt to mould Denzel Washington into an action hero. He had already nabbed an Oscar for Glory, but he didn’t have any massive box-office hits under his belt. In it, Denzel is perfectly cast as a hotshot LAPD rookie named Nick Styles, who, on a routine patrol, comes face to face with a psychotic hitman named Earl Talbot Blake, played by John Lithgow. Styles manages to diffuse a hostage situation and arrest Blake in an incident that’s videotaped by a bystander who sells it to the news. The young, handsome Styles becomes a celebrity cop night and eventually becomes the Assistant D.A of Los Angeles, with a bright future in politics ahead of him and a lovely family that includes his beautiful wife Alice (played by Victoria Dillard) and two adorable daughters.

But Nick’s got a big problem. Furious at Styles getting the upper hand on him, Blake has spent eight years training and making alliances in prison to escape and wreak havoc on Styles life. You see, he doesn’t want to kill Styles, far from it. He wants to basically “cancel” Styles in the days before cancelling, ruining his life, leaving him a shell of a man, and eventually landing him in jail.

Now, Ricochet is a great little movie – but it’s wild. I can see why critics might not have known what to make of it in 1991, as it’s genuinely unhinged. What’s fascinating about it is that Denzel Washington’s Styles, while the film’s hero, isn’t really the lead. This is more like Cape Fear in that the psycho, played by John Lithgow, has more screen time, and it’s all about his revenge. Lithgow has rarely been better than he is here. While none of us really consider him a tough guy, Lithgow got into shape for the role, changed his look and is utterly convincing as a badass hitman who loses his mind in jail. His odyssey towards revenge is what the director, Russell Mulch and the screenwriter Steven E de Souza focus on. There are some truly gonzo scenes, such as a moment where Lithgow has a prison sword fight, using books as armour, with an Aryan nation tough guy played by Jesse “The Body” Ventura. Mulcahy shoots the sequence like it’s Highlander, complete with sparks as the swords hit each other and an epic score by Alan Silvestri. 

Mulcahy seems to be having a total ball with this film, ramping up the violence to such a degree that it was very clearly cut before it hit theaters as it was apparently so extreme it landed the studio an NC-17. Lithgow’s parole board escape is especially gruesome, while de Souza’s dialogue is an off-kilter blast.

denzel washington ricochet

Meanwhile, Denzel grounds the film by being utterly convincing as Style. His million-dollar smile and mega-watt charisma is on full display here, but he’s very believable in the role. You buy that the smart, good-looking Styles would become a celebrity and would make a fantastic DA (indeed, Denzel has famously played many lawyers). You buy him as a family man, and he also looks like a guy who can take care of himself in a fight, even if he gets very little action until the final showdown with Lithogow, which makes it all the more exciting to watch. The supporting cast is fun, too, with Kevin Pollack and Ice-T as D-Wash’s loyal buddies. Pollack plays his cop partner, a true-blue pal who sticks with him during his brutal comedown, with Blake setting up Styles to look like a heroin-addicted pedophile. He even gets him infected with VD in a disturbing sequence. Pollack sticks by him, even if you know he’s probably too pure of a character not to meet a grim end. Pollack even busts out his Shatner impression at one point, which cracks Denzel up in a way that feels legitimate. Meanwhile, Ice-T plays a buddy of Denzel’s from when he was a kid who’s now a gangster, albeit one with a conscience who helps out his pal when push comes to shove. 

In the end, Ricochet wasn’t a particular hit, only making about $21 million domestically. That’s not a terrible number, and the film was a solid cable hit. Still, it was overshadowed by Denzel’s follow-ups, which were somewhat more prestigious, with Philadelphia and The Pelican Brief establishing him more of a sophisticated-type leading man. The funny thing is that Denzel always loved doing action movies and would try again with Virtuosity in 1995 (discovering Russell Crowe in the process). True action stardom would eventually happen for Denzel with Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day (which nabbed him another Oscar) and Tony Scott’s Man on Fire (a movie I consider a masterpiece). Nowadays, he’s one of the giants of modern action (with The Equalizer 3 a notable recent hit). 

For its part, Ricochet is largely obscure, to the point that it only exists on physical media on an old DVD copy of the movie put out by HBO in the 90s, which is non-anamorphic. The best version of the movie out there is a pirated copy ripped from Cinemax in HD, but it’s not in the right aspect ratio. It’s really too bad, as it deserves a full-on re-release, with Denzel at his best and John Lithgow’s performance in particular ripe for rediscovery.

Have you ever seen Ricochet? Let us know in the comments! 

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.