John Ridley is one of the most versatile of writers, starting out doing writing for such shows as MARTIN and FRESH PRINCE OF BEL AIR he would follow that up with some of the most accomplished novels, screenplays, and films of the waning days of the 20th and new days of the 21st century.
For me his loose HARD LUCK pulp trilogy of STRAY DOGS, LOVE IS A RACKET and EVERYBODY SMOKES IN HELL are the books that made me a John Ridley fan. They are a series of exhilarating mystery novels, that share only a thematic sensibility but a successful one, of a hard luck or down on their luck protagonist, trying to navigate a world completely out of his control.
These would spawn two equally excellent films, Namely U-TURN based on STRAY DOGS and directed by Oliver Stone and starring Sean Penn and Jennifer Lopez, and COLD AROUND THE HEART written and directed by Ridley and starring David Caruso, Kelly Lynch and Stacey Dash, both excellent, intimate, dark noirs/neo-noirs in the vein of films such as BLOOD SIMPLE and THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE.
Unfortunately both films were released in 1997, the year of Blockbusters such as TITANIC, GOOD WILL HUNTING, FIFTH ELEMENT, MEN IN BLACK, as well as the year of the crime film/neo noir JACKIE BROWN, LA CONFIDENTIAL, LOST HIGHWAY, THE GAME. It was just a case of bad timing, and these great movies getting squeezed out at the box office.
Unfortunately I think what the financial under-performance of the films, specifically COLD AROUND THE HEART robbed us of most, was more work from John Ridley as director. I think in any less big-budget heavy year, his COLD AROUND THE HEART would have done for him what ONE FALSE MOVE did for the career of Carl Franklin, or the aforementioned BLOOD SIMPLE did for the Coen Brothers.
As it is both films are available on DVD (unfortunately Director’s Commentary versions aren’t yet out there) and can be appreciated for the stylish and compelling films they are.
And they led into the next phase of John Ridley’s career.
-End of Part I-