It’s not wrong to describe Mr. Ricco as disposable escapism featuring a past-his-prime star pandering to cinematic fashion by appearing in a gritty urban thriller with more than a little Dirty Harry in its DNA. And, indeed, very little about Mr. Ricco or leading man Dean Martin’s performance will linger in your memory after you watch the picture. So whether or not you dig this flick depends almost entirely on your appetite for that quintessential ’70s-cinema vibe. Shot in slick widescreen on dingy and glamorous locations throughout San Francisco, Mr. Ricco has a hip attitude, a jangly jazz score, lively supporting performances, plenty of violence, and a smidgen of sarcasm thanks to the title character’s wiseass dialogue. If you go for this sort of thing, you’ll devour Mr. Ricco like a hearty serving of comfort food. If not, you’ll likely—and understandably—dismiss the picture as soulless Hollywood product.
Martin plays a defense lawyer named Joe Ricco, and the filmmakers embellish the title role with colorful flourishes. Joe’s a smooth-talking widower whose friendships with cops blur ethical boundaries, he cheats at golf, and he tolerates all the weed his young associates smoke while doing legal research, because, hey, live and let live. When the story begins, Joe gets black radical Frankie Steele (Thalmus Rasulala) acquitted on murder charges, earning adoration from the counterculture and enmity from the Establishment. After two cops are killed, Frankie emerges as Suspect No. 1, so Joe gets pulled into dual intrigue—even as he investigates whether Frankie’s really guilty, he tries to track the fugitive down before trigger-happy police find him. Notwithstanding a few subplots, the most important of which involves a mystery figure who might or might not be Frankie trying to kill Joe at regular intervals, that’s basically the plot. What Mr. Ricco offers beyond its serviceable narrative is vivacity. Future sitcom star Cindy Williams appears briefly as Joe’s spunky secretary, and future Miami Vice guy Philip Michael Thomas plays a suspect whose sister hires Joe. Reliable character actor John Quade turns up in a couple of scenes as a grinning pimp. Oh, and Frankie leads an underground group called the Black Serpents. You get the idea.
Director Paul Bogart doesn’t drench every scene in style, but he uses well-chosen actors and locations to create a world that feels coherent, if not necessarily realistic. Accordingly, all the menacing and posturing and scheming in this movie goes down smoothly, particularly when the nocturnal, small-combo syncopation of Chico Hamilton’s score enlivens the images. Plus, every so often, the picture embraces its own cartoonishness, as in this monologue from Joe’s police-captain friend George, played with gritted-teeth crankiness by Eugene Roche: “I don’t need you to tell me my job. I’ve been doing it for 20 years—20 years of being shot at and beat up on by sick, filthy creeps whose own mothers would’ve flushed ’em down the toilet if they’d known how they were gonna turn out!”
Mr. Ricco: GROOVY