May 30th 2022

An early sequence in Ricochet (1991) features young police officer, and aspiring lawyer, Denzel Washington on patrol at a carnival. All-around villain John Lithgow is nearby, in the midst of some sort of criminal conspiracy. And then their paths cross. In an inspired and now infamous sequence, Denzel strips down to his boxers while keeping his gun trained on Lithgow, who has a shotgun pressed against a young woman’s head. After apparently disarming himself and watching Lithghow set the woman free, Denzel reaches into the back of his underwear, pulls out a small pistol and shoots Lithgow, now brandishing a butterfly knife: “I guess a Beretta in the butt beats a butterfly in a boot, huh?”

It only gets crazier from there. Director Russell Mulcahey (Highlander, 1986) and his team of three writers (including The Monster Squad [1987] and 48 Hrs. [1982] scribes Fred Dekker and Steven E. de Souza, respectively) deliver one of the more absurd, consistently chaotic studio genre films of the 1990s—which is saying a lot. A kitchen-sink genre hybrid of policier, legal thriller, prison movie, stalker drama, and urban action, Ricochet would feel largely aimless if it wasn’t in such good hands. Following the rousing opening scene, the audience is treated to prison gladiatorial bouts wherein Lithgow and oncomers duct tape books to their abdomens and fight to the death with makeshift javelins. Elsewhere, Denzel is injected with heroin in the drained indoor pool of a motel, an extended sequence that offers the most visually arresting images of the film, his doped-up POV full of blurred vision and canted angles.

Even if everything leading into the last act wasn’t so subversive of genre conventions and outright weird, the last act of Ricochet would still register in the annals of manic genre cinema esoterica. If the opening wasn’t enough of Denzel in his underwear, he strips down to his boxers yet again to run through the streets wielding a gun, only to end up tackling a clown in front of a bunch of children. Forced to flee his home, he entrusts his children to longtime friend and current drug pusher Ice-T, leaving them in a seemingly derelict building covered in graffiti. But the true coup de grâce of the film finds Denzel atop a building, covering his face in makeup and shouting to people and news cameras below, “I mugged Ronald McDonald!” The moment is truly only a stone’s throw from his Oscar-winning performance in Training Day (2001) a decade later. Ricochet suitably ends with Denzel saying “kiss my ass” to a reporter, a crude CG bullet flying toward the camera. Roll credits: cue the standing ovation.

Ricochet screens tonight, May 30, at Nitehawk Prospect Park on 35mm.