RICOCHET. HBO/Cinema Plus, 1991. Denzel Washington, John Lithgow, Ice T, Kevin Pollak, Lindsay Wagner. Director: Russell Mulcahy.

   This movie was made, I believe, before Denzel Washington became a well-known box office draw, and the movie did not do very well financially. (For what it’s worth, it came out a few months before Cape Fear, which had a very similar story line.)

   Washington plays Nick Styles, who at the beginning of the movie is a night school law student moonlighting as a beat patrolman. He’s propelled to fame overnight when his capture of a sadistic killer named Earl Talbot Blake (John Lithgow) is caught on video tape by a happenstance onlooker. Seven years later he is happily married, has two children, and careerwise is an Assistant District Attorney. More than that, he is considered by many to be a political star in the making.

   Blake, in the meantime, is seething his life away in prison, plotting his revenge and cracking up visually, minute by minute. Once escaped but assumed to be dead, his goal is not to to kill Styles — too easy! — but to tear his life apart and utterly humiliate him. Using the power of the media, he nearly succeeds, brutally killing Styles’ friends, and in particular using a videotape showing Styles having sex with a prostitute, his mind addled with drugs, and adding faked dialogue.

   When Styles realizes how greatly his family is in danger, enough is enough, the lid really comes off. The final fiery confrontation between the two enemies is shown on live TV, of course, making this film an early example of how the media is increasingly making successes of some people’s lives and breaking others. Or in Styles’ case, first his meteoric rise to fame, then his downfall, before final redemption. Three acts, all caught on tape and live TV as well as newspaper headlines.

   Outwardly, other than that, what this is is an above average action thriller, made better than it really is by a top notch cast, all of whom know exactly what they’re doing. (It was good to see Lindsay Wagner again as Styles’ boss, and the always recognizable John Amos as his father.)