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MOVIE REVIEWS : Scary, Suspenseful 'Ricochet'

October 07, 1991|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

What are Denzel Washington and John Lithgow, two of our most distinguished screen actors, doing in "Ricochet" (citywide), a hard-action thriller that opened Friday without press previews? They're giving the all-stops-out performances of their careers, that's what.

As for the film, it's exploitation-picture violent, that's also for sure, but "Ricochet" is genuinely scary, suspenseful and disturbing in the best sense. It marks yet another collaboration between co-producer Joel Silver and writer Steven E. de Souza, who worked together on "48 HRS.," "Commando," "Die Hard" and "Die Hard 2."

Washington plays Nick Styles, a handsome, trim Los Angeles Police rookie going to law school. He's not entirely kidding when he meets the young woman (Victoria Dillard) who'll soon become his wife and tells her that she could be the first black First Lady--if Jesse Jackson doesn't beat him to the White House.

After only nine months on the job, this arrow-straight preacher's kid's career gets a tremendous boost when he collars professional hit man Earl Talbot Blake (Lithgow).

It's too bad that Styles does not shoot Blake fatally, for now this enraged psychopath has years behind bars to fuel his lust for revenge--years during which Styles becomes a star prosecutor, a celebrated assistant district attorney (under tough D.A. Lindsay Wagner) with a fine Hancock Park home, two adorable daughters and a brilliant future seemingly assured.

What happens is not all that predictable, for De Souza, working from Fred Dekker and Menno Meyjes' story, in making Blake as brilliant as he is demented, has the opportunity to comment on how TV has made Styles a star, fueling Blake's hatred simultaneously and also inspiring Blake to attempt to use the media in turn to destroy Styles.

Indeed, as physical as this film gets--and Washington and Lithgow are in fact required to go at it as if Schwarzenegger and Stallone were going toe to toe--it makes the point that if the proud, cocky Styles is to save himself he's going to have to figure out how to manipulate the media to the max.

Underneath Styles and Blake's duel of wits (and muscle) the film reveals the twists in Blake's warped psyche with the relentless, compelling sense of horror of a James Ellroy novel.

While maintaining an increasingly tense, hard-driving pace, director Russell Mulcahy gives Washington and Lithgow the confidence to dare the bravura flourishes they both have the talent and intellect to sustain.

But then, "Ricochet" (rated R for violence, language, sex and drug-taking) is risky through and through, teetering on the ludicrous, throwing in darkly comic touches yet always holding on to a thread of credibility that is chilling in effect.

"Ricochet" certainly exaggerates, gets foolishly sentimental about Styles' new-found bond with a childhood friend (Ice T), who's now a top crack dealer, yet leaves us feeling that all that it depicts with such unflagging zest and punch could actually happen to anyone in the public eye.

'Ricochet'

Denzel Washington: Nick Styles

John Lithgow: Earl Talbot Blake

Ice T: Odessa

Kevin Doyle: Larry Pollak

A Warner Bros. release of an HBO presentation in association with Cinema Pus, L.P. of a Silver Pictures production. Director Russell Mulcahy. Producers Joel Silver, Michael Levy. Executive producer Barry Josephson. Screenplay Steven E. de Souza, from a story by Fred Dekker and Menno Meyjes. Cinematographer Peter Levy. Editor Peter Honess. Costumes Marilyn Vance-Straker. Music Alan Silvestri. Production design Jaymes Hinkle. Art director Christiaan Wagener. Set designer Eric Orbom. Set decorators Richard Goddard, Sam Gross. Sound Ed Novick. Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes.

MPAA-rated R (for strong violence and sensuality, and for language and drug content).

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