“He’s a cop accused of murder. And the only man who knows he’s innocent is the killer who framed him. This is one case that’s going to be settled out of court.”
Entire Story In Fewer Words Than Are In This Sentence:
Homicidal maniac obsesses over hot black sex cop.
It is perhaps significant that the very first scene is a basketball game, with plenty of trash-talk and close physical contact between cop/law student Nick Styles (Denzel Washington) and his street hustler buddy, Odessa (Ice-T!). We all know that sports, like fighting or any other excuse to grapple with another man, are acceptable surrogates for Greek love, but Styles is decidedly heterosexual, which his voyeuristic stalker, Earl Talbot Blake (John Lithgow), will later use against him.
Blake is a hired killer, introduced preparing for a job with his Rain Man-like sycophant, Kim (Josh Evans), who effusively gushes praise at Blake every chance he gets. “What do I have to do to shut you up?” Blake asks him. “Tie you up and gag you?” Kim smiles hopefully. When Blake and Styles first meet, in a tense moment in which Blake is holding a hostage, it is mere minutes before Styles has stripped down to his shorts, showing off his flawless physique, supposedly to prove that he is unarmed. Blake seems to enjoy the display a great deal, and is distracted enough by it that Styles is able to take him down with a shot to the knee from a Beretta he has concealed where the sun don’t shine.
Later we see Blake in a prison cell, where he quickly beats the shit out of his Aryan Brotherhood cellmate, Chewalski (Jesse Ventura!) and replaces the beefcake poster he has hanging on the cell wall (though only after taking a significant moment to admire it) with a newspaper clipping of Styles, which he gazes at with an expression of orgasmic rapture before tilting his head to the heavens, his eyes rolling back with pleasure. The obsession has well and truly begun. Later, as Blake is on his way to a parole hearing, we get a pan across his cell, which is now thoroughly wallpapered with photos of Styles, including (I shit you not) a pin-up girl with her ass in the air and the face of Styles looking back over her shoulder, as well as another in the missionary position, spread-eagled with the head of Styles over her own.
When Blake and Styles finally meet again, they arm-wrestle, which is pretty hot. “Come on, you’re not that soft,” Blake coaxes the drugged Styles as they hold their hands locked tightly together and gaze into each other’s eyes. “After all that we’ve meant to each other,” he continues, “this moment now is the first time we’ve ever touched.” It is a moment that seems to last an eternity for the two men, their hands and eyes locked, until Styles slams Blake into submission before realizing he has been drugged. When he wakes up, Blake has stripped him nude and placed him lovingly in a bed, where a prostitute hired by Blake proceeds to rape him (assuming it is just a weird S&M scenario, which it absolutely is, though not the consensual one she believes it to be) while Blake and Kim watch.
Kim has his own obsession with Blake, fawning over him at a bar (“Mind like a steel trap, body of a Greek god…”) until Blake screams at him to shut up so he can hear the TV. He wants “to hear the moment [Styles is] arrested. I wanna see his face in the light of those cameras, his hands when they put the cuffs on. That’s when it’ll be… complete.” When he sees Styles appears to be about to commit suicide, though, he rushes to stop it; Styles must live to suffer for years, or Blake will not be able to achieve “completion.” There is also a lot of impalement imagery throughout the movie, from the death of Jesse “The Body” to the long, phallic objects that penetrate the bodies of both Blake and Styles in the climactic sequence.
A barely respectable 20 onscreen deaths (a nine-count homicide Styles prosecutes early on gets nearly half that in off-screen deaths, but of course those don’t count), but when they do happen they are admirably brutal and bloody. The first four are all gloriously gory shotgun blasts from Blake early on, and his parole hearing escape sequence manages to double the existing count up to that point in less than five minutes, with some pretty great Novelty Deaths thrown into the mix. All in all, the movie does not leave you wanting for violence.
How Bad Is It Really?
Not half bad at all! There are flaws, of course, but only if you choose to look at them that way. The dialogue is often clever in an overt way that shows the writer’s hand, and the performances can’t always cover for it. Some plot elements strain credibility pretty far (I am still not sure how strapping books to his leg really helped Blake heal his knee faster, for example), and some might accuse Lithgow of overacting. Not me, though. He is perfect in this, and generally any role that allows him to turn his natural flamboyant charm to the dark side. Denzel is a perfect match for him, and they elevate material that could have been mediocre, but credit is also due to the filmmakers. Ricochet is a tightly crafted and fun thriller, and the wild violence and deep-running obsession in the story recalls a good (though maybe not great) Brian De Palma movie. It certainly helps that it has a very De Palma (read: Hitchcock) score and opening credits sequence, as well as Lithgow in the kind of role he perfected in De Palma movies like Blow Out and Raising Cain.
Blake, speaking of his hostage: “Back off, or she’s gonna need a paper bag over her head when her boyfriend fucks what’s left of her!”
Styles, after stripping down to show he is unarmed: “The only weapon I got now is useless unless you’re a pretty girl.”
Blake, after a guard sarcastically hopes he flossed before his parole hearing: “I did, with your wife’s pubic hair.”
Odessa, with that cold-ass Ice-T delivery: “We’re with the District Attorney’s Assistant Club. We’re assisting the District Attorney, so don’t make me club your ass.”
Larry Doyle (Kevin Pollak), the former partner of Styles when he was a cop, has a novel one in that it is delivered before his own death: “Blake’s got to be alive, right? Otherwise, how did he kill me?”
They really saved the best one for last. After Blake is electrocuted and falls from a tower onto a huge steel spike that impales him through the torso, Styles looks down and says, “You got the point now, don’t you, Blake?”
Stupid Political Content:
Some pretty standard 80s Action stuff about how the system coddles criminals and lets them walk. On his way to talk to Odessa at a trap house, Styles casually takes a crack pipe away from an addict and destroys it. Just Say No, kids! Imploring Odessa not to sling his wares at the Children’s Center, he actually says, “Do the right thing, my brother. Not for me, not for yourself, but think about the kids.” Styles is a political climber, no doubt, and Blake’s whole revenge plan centers around discrediting and ruining him politically, but there is an undeniable underlying sexual motivation to his fetishistic obsession.
There is a bit of fun satire of wild conspiracy theories when a militant African-American talk show guests goes off on this tirade in defense of Styles: “We believe that Nicholas Styles is the victim of a conspiracy, and we know who they are, this insidious group that tears down any African-American politician who dares to defy their power. We’re talking of the Rockefellers and their Trilateral Commission, along with the Zionists, have been putting AIDS virus in vending machines all across America!”
Most interestingly, though, is how heavily random citizens with video cameras figure into the plot, perhaps inspired by the Rodney King incident from earlier in the year the film was released. This, coupled with the fact that Styles ultimately trusts his family with the thugs he knows (Odessa and his crew) more than with the cops who no longer trust him, and we see a slight breaking away from the traditional values and worldview of 80s Action, anticipating the new decade that had already begun.
Was There A Stupid Chief?
District Attorney Priscilla “The Hun” Brimleigh (Lindsay Wagner) fills this role for Styles, taking him under her wing after the Blake arrest and grooming him as her assistant before ultimately relieving him of duty after it appears he has lost his mind. She takes his metaphorical badge and gun by suspending him when Blake’s gaslighting campaign has begun to work, and it is then up to Styles to go rogue and get results, dammit!
As mentioned before, the Corpse Count is not terribly high, but you gotta give them points for creativity. Jesse “The Body” gets a makeshift prison sword in the chest through a photo of Styles in the newspaper, pages of which he has strapped to himself for armor. Later, at the parole hearing, one guard gets it in the chest with a handheld circular saw while another takes a power drill in the neck. All of this after Blake takes out the parole board chairman with a home/prison-made gun about the size and shape of a laser pointer. Styles’s friend, Councilman Farris (John Cothtran, Jr.), is killed by Blake and Kim and then posed to look as though it is some kind of S&M suicide, dressed in lingerie as he hangs from the ceiling fan. And of course there is Blake’s own demise, when he is electrocuted and impaled on a steel spike, finally getting “the point.”
Was There An Atomic Blast At The End?
No, but there are a few good ‘splosions earlier on, especially when Blake fakes his own death by burning the body of a fellow inmate (with whom his dental records have been switched by Kim) in a bookmobile truck he sends over a cliff to explode. “I always wanted a Viking funeral,” he says as he admires the fireball below.
What You Learned:
If you work to promote literacy and rehabilitation among prison inmates, you will be rewarded with a gunshot wound in the chest when the inevitable insanely implausible escape happens.