Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Beretta In The Butt Beats A Butterfly In The Boot

A typically excessive melodrama from producer Joel Silver, 1991's RICOCHET is a real find for those who like to laugh at bad movies. It’s the kind of movie where John Lithgow can beat the crap out of wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura, and for a rematch in prison, the two men are wrapped with duct tape and heavy books for a gladiatorial-style fight using sharpened metal poles as swords. Later, Lithgow, who has escaped from prison to gain revenge against the cop who put him away, manages to somehow sneak into an exclusive hotel, drain its Olympic-sized indoor swimming pool, drain it, move furniture into it (!), and hold the cop hostage for several days while plying him with cocaine, heroin and hookers.

For the finale, the cop, unable to trust his family’s safety with the police (for no reason that I can discern), moves his wife and kids into a crackhouse run by his childhood friend Odessa (Ice-T), who undertakes a dangerous commando mission to help the cop win a deadly fistfight against Lithgow atop the Watts Towers. Everything is pumped up to the highest decibel, including Alan Silvestri’s high and mighty score and the explosive chest-bursting squibs that punctuate the gunfire.

As a rookie patrolman, Nick Styles (Denzel Washington) brought down assassin Earl Blake (Lithgow) during a carnival gunfight that was captured on an amateur home video. The notoriety of Blake’s capture catapulted Styles and his partner Larry Doyle (Kevin Pollak, who does his Shatner impression) to detective and eventually to the district attorney’s office, where eight years later, Styles is an assistant D.A. under Priscilla “The Hun” Brimleigh (former BIONIC WOMAN Lindsay Wagner) and Doyle is his investigator.

Blake spends those eight years obsessing about Styles, and finally engineers a hilariously implausible prison break that enables him to get his revenge. Instead of just killing Styles, he engineers an elaborately dumb plan to frame him as a child pornographer, an embezzler, an adulterer (Styles’ wife treats him like one after he tells her he was raped while under the influence) and a murderer.

Steven E. de Souza, the screenwriter, has a fertile imagination, to be sure, but Blake would have to exist in a pretty dim world to make Styles’ friends and family believe the B.S. he’s shoveling. De Souza and director Russell Mulcahy (HIGHLANDER) are trying to make a statement against the news media and its manipulation of innocent lives in pursuit of ratings, but any satire is washed away by the corny dialogue and violent excess, which are far funnier than the film’s intentional humor. The difference between the spoofery of THE NAKED GUN movies and the unintentional absurdity of RICOCHET is so thin, you couldn’t slip an index card between them (when a prison guard mocks Blake by asking him if he flossed before going to see the parole board, the madman answers, “Yeah, with your wife’s pubic hair.”).

Lithgow overplayed several baddies in equally stupid action movies during the early 1990s, including CLIFFHANGER and RAISING CAIN. As he grew older and moved into TV sitcoms, his acting became even less restrained, if you can believe it. Washington, in between Spike Lee movies MO’ BETTER BLUES and MALCOLM X, later did the similar but even worse serial-killer flick VIRTUOSITY opposite a then-unknown Russell Crowe.


Adam Ross said...

I haven't seen this since it first came out (first weekend!), but I can remember all the ridiculous moments like they were yesterday: a prison guard getting a power saw to the chest during the breakout, Blake's getaway van randomly exploding after it's pushed off a cliff, gratuitous strip club nudity including a 300+ pounder, etc. My favorite has to be the very end, when Styles tells the TV camera "!" before a bullet shoots at the screen and explodes.

Vince said...

I believe I'm the only person who wondered why last year's American Gangster wasn't promoted as "the stars of Virtuosity together again!"