It’s always interesting for me to view early Denzel Washington films, like this decidedly minor action thriller, Ricochet (1991). Denzel plays hotshot detective-turned-district-attorney Nick Styles, while John Lithgow plays his badass, butt-kicking nemesis, Earl Talbot Blake (?!). I know, I just typed that sentence and I had to do a mental double-take. Although spectacularly miscast, Lithgow nonetheless enjoys chewing the scenery with crazy-eyed relish. (For a believably badass Lithgow villain, see his Emmy-winning turn in the 4th season of Dexter).
About a quarter hour into the film, Lithgow gets to flex his teeth-gnashing skills opposite a reel librarian billed as the “Book Man” (Don Perry). While Earl is seething revenge in a prison hospital bed — he had just gotten shot in the kneecaps by Nick the Cop — an older white male pushing a cart of books shuffles into view.
Decked out in so-nerdy-it’s-almost-stylish-again duds such as a newsboy cap, plaid shirt and cardigan (but alas, no bow tie!), he bends over Earl to say:
Young fella? Look at you! Lying there like a lump on a log. So what if you’ve made a few mistakes? You can change your life for the better. Don’t you have anything to live for?
Earl has no reaction to this inspirational message. Or maybe he was pissed at being called “young fella” (being over 45 in real life by this point). Either way, he seems unmoved. But after viewing a TV news bit about the stylin’ Nick Styles, he calls out, “Hey you! Book Man!”
Pleased as punch, this Information Provider and Comic Relief reel librarian pushes the cart of books back over. Here is the oddest, and darkly comedic, bit of cinematic reader’s advisory you’ll ever witness:
Earl: You know what? I just thought of something I could change. A whole life. A whole future. It’s all in my hands.
Book Man: Wonderful. Would you like something uplifting to read? Maybe motivational?
Earl: Something heavy.
Book Man: How about Tolstoy? Anna Karenina.
Earl: It’s not heavy enough.
Book Man: Well, it was his first book. Ok. War and Peace.
Earl: Yeah, that’s perfect. [Book Man puts his hands on his hips, looking mighty proud of himself, see above.] I’ll take that big Bible there, too.
Book Man: God bless you. Fine young man. When you start reading the right things, go down the right road.
Earl’s ulterior motive: binding the heavy books with tape to use as a splint for his messed-up leg! And he continues to honor the true value of books by using them in prison as body armor. (Not kidding.) And later, the ex-cons use a bookstore that poses as an Aryan front for fake passports. Sigh.
So even though I was thinking that was it for the Book Man — I totally thought he was going to die with War and Peace literally imprinted on the side of his head at the end of that hospital scene — but no, wrong again! Earl meets up with Book Man again on his breakout escape from prison. See, for years, Earl has been planning this escape and plotting revenge on Nick, and he’s none too pleased to meet up with Mr. Book Man in the prison parking lot. Although the Book Man sure seems happy (see right).
Outside his bookmobile, the Book Man calls out to Earl (in disguise as a fancy pants lawyer), ”Hey there, young fella. Do you remember me? The books in the hospital?”
Not impressed with the old guy’s memory — or the lack of aging process on ANYONE in this film — Earl shoots him in the chest and steals his bookmobile to use as the getaway vehicle. Worst. Library. Patron. EVER.
You can see the prison escape scene below, but be prepared for graphic violence toward reel librarians and others:
And the poor bookmobile meets a grisly end, as well. Sigh. A cart bites the dust on the highway, splattering books everywhere, and Earl and his sidekick conspirator light up the bookmobile and push it off a cliff. To add insult to injury (and murder), we even get a closeup of it as the bookmobile blows up!
“I always wanted a Viking funeral.”
Go in peace, Correctional Facilities Bookmobile and Mr. Book Man, go in peace.
- The First Bookmobile in the United States (neatorama.com)
- Comic Relief librarians (reel-librarians.com)
- Tank Bookmobile Is a Weapon of Mass Instruction (neatorama.com)
- Paper Gallery: Art Books: ‘Spider-Man,’ ‘Supercell’ and More (nytimes.com)