Striking Distance (1993)
“Loyalty above all else, except honour.”
Director: Rowdy Herrington
Cast: Bruce Willis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Dennis Farina
Synopsis: Coming from a police family, Tom Hardy ends up fighting his uncle after the murder of his father. Tom believes the killer is another cop, and goes on the record with his allegations. Demoted then to river duty, the killer taunts Tom.
People tend to forget that it wasn’t only John Travolta’s career that received a boost from his appearance in Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction; Bruce Willis’s career was also in the doldrums in the early 1990s, thanks to a number of duds that included Bonfire of the Vanities and Hudson Hawk. Striking Distance, which was released immediately prior to Pulp Fiction, is another example of Willis’s faulty selection process. In fact, the movie is so bad that it’s difficult to understand what merit Willis saw in the script, or what he (or his agent) thought it could do for his career, and even how a studio could give it a green light.
Willis plays Tom Hardy, a cop in a family of cops living and working in Philadelphia. His dad (John Mahoney) is a cop, his Uncle Nick (Dennis Farina) is a cop, and his cousins Danny (Tom Sizemore) and Jimmy (Robert Pastorelli) are both cops. Jimmy is also Tom’s partner, but he’s a cop with a habit of beating up on suspects, which has caused a little friction within the family because Tom has reported Jimmy’s behaviour to Internal Affairs. At the same time as this is going on Tom is drawing a blank in his hunt for a serial killer who is killing young women after first incapacitating them with a taser gun.
As Tom and his father are driving to the Policeman’s Ball, they pick up a call for back-up in a car chase in pursuit of a suspect in the killings — don’t ask me how they know he’s a suspect, he just is. In fact, he’s not merely a suspect he is without a doubt the killer because… well, well, just because, ok? What do you want? Logic? The guy’s driving around Philadelphia wearing a ski mask — he’s got to be the killer. Anyway, as Tom careers around in an admittedly fairly decent chase scene, he and his father discuss why Tom doesn’t have a date for the Policeman’s Ball in that cool, relaxed tone adopted by all cops involved in car chases in bad movies.
Eventually, both Tom and his quarry crash their cars, and while Tom is unconscious from the impact the killer shoots his father dead. When Tom goes public with his belief that the killer is a cop, he’s stripped of his detective’s badge. Then Jimmy throws himself off a bridge. All this happens in the first reel, mind you, which will give you a good idea of just how overwrought Striking Distance is at times. The movie then fast forwards a couple of years to find a semi-alcoholic Tom living on a boathouse and working on the River Patrol. He’s still Mr. Popular with his work colleagues, not only because he ratted on a colleague, but also because he has a habit of speeding off in his boat the moment his partner’s release the boat from its moorings, thus depositing them into the river. Truth be told, Tom’s a bit of a jerk but, hey, he’s got problems…
Cliche is piled upon cliche as Tom is saddled with a new partner who — get this for a plot twist — happens to be a hot female. Well, his new partner happens to be played by Sarah Jessica Parker, who, shall we say, is beautiful in her own special way. Tom resents a partner with bosoms, but gains a sneaking admiration for her when she passes his speed-away-and-dump-them-in-the-water test, and his admiration deepens when she saves his life after they board a craft on which a drug deal has gone awry. Needless to say, it’s not long before Tom and his new partner are rolling around on Tom’s rumpled bed sheets, but just as it looks as if there’s a little light filtering back into his life, the serial killer resumes his activities, this time targeting Tom’s ex-girlfriends.
Striking Distance is so stereotypical of the genre that it almost plays like a compilation of every cop thriller ever made. There truly seems to be no genre cliche that co-writer (with Marty Kaplan) and director Rowdy Herrington hasn’t thrown into the pot, but he’s done it with all the care and attention to detail of a hyperactive eight-year-old whose just been told their dad’s been shot by a serial killer. The characterisation is weak, the direction amateurish, and the script so poor that it actually makes decent actors look bad. Willis gives an understated performance, and it’s difficult to tell whether it’s in keeping with Herrington’s direction of the character or simply because he knew what a clunker this was and found it impossible to work up any kind of enthusiasm for such drivel. At least he got to ride on speed boats and fondle Sarah Jessica Parker’s boobs — all we in the audience get to do is try to stop from going under for a third time as we slowly lose the will to live…
(Reviewed 26th March 2013)