Sony // 1993 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Dan Mancini (Retired) // July 3rd, 2009
They shouldn't have put him in the water, if they didn't want him to make waves.
In all likelihood, writer-director Rowdy Herrington is destined to be remembered as the man who gave us the stupendously awesome badness that is Road House (the Lawrence of Arabia of white trash honky-tonk flicks). He certainly won't be remembered for Striking Distance. Made four years after his epic paean to the art of bouncing, it is arguably Herrington's most bizarre effort. The flick's low-rent, slipshod TV cop show vibe meshes with its stellar cast to create a brain-melting fit of cognitive dissonance in anyone brave enough to give it a spin. If you think you couldn't possibly spend an uninterrupted 102 minutes pondering with focused intensity how these actors ended up in this movie, then you need to check out Striking Distance.
The movie tells the story of an obsessive, borderline alcoholic rogue cop named Tom Hardy (Bruce Willis, Die Hard). In order to establish from the outset that he'll be working in the broadest stereotypes imaginable, Herrington makes Hardy a Pittsburgh homicide detective from an entire family of cops, half of whom are Irish while the other half are Italian. Hardy's deeply ingrained sense of honor makes life miserable for him when he agrees to testify that his partner (and cousin) Jimmy Detillo (Robert Pastorelli, Dances with Wolves) abused a suspect in the Polish Hill Strangler serial murder case. The Strangler is eventually caught and convicted, but not before Jimmy commits suicide, his enraged brother Danny (Tom Sizemore, Saving Private Ryan) disappears, and Tom's old man (John Mahoney, Say Anything) is murdered.
Two years later, a laughingstock among Pittsburgh cops, Tom has been re-assigned to the River Patrol. He and his new (female!) partner, Jo Christman (Sarah Jessica Parker, Sex and the City: The Movie), spend their days cruising the Three Rivers district, busting boaters for speeding, possession of alcohol, and other minor offenses. Hardy's depressing, alcoholic life becomes even more depressing when the Polish Hill Strangler seemingly returns. The killer targets Tom's former lovers, and then dumps them in the river so Tom will find them. Hardy's insistence that the man in jail for the Polish Hill murders was wrongly convicted falls on the deaf ears of his uncle (and Jimmy and Danny's father), police Captain Nick Detillo (Dennis Farina, Get Shorty). Tom is convinced a cop is behind the murders. He must take matters into his own hands in order to prove he's right, stop the murders, and protect his partner (and lover).
Striking Distance isn't much more than a densely woven tapestry of well-worn cop flick clichés. Tom Hardy is simultaneously a fragile alcoholic with a haunted past and a rogue cop obsessed with finding the killer he's convinced has thwarted justice. He's also a wise-acre who gets in not-so-pithy screaming matches with Detective Eiler (Brion James, Blade Runner), the foul-mouthed personification of the police force's hatred of Hardy for ratting out Jimmy Detillo. Tom's also the son of a cop dad who spewed a steady stream of sage cop wisdom like, "Loyalty above all else, except honor." He's also a wizened veteran who has no patience for a rookie partner who is not only naïve but had the audacity to become a cop even though she has a uterus. Tom Hardy is, in other words, every cop hero from every cop movie ever made, all rolled into one non-descript guy in an ugly blue windbreaker and baseball cap. He's Dirty Harry Callahan minus the tough, Popeye Doyle without the grit, Frank Bullitt without the Mustang, and John McClane without the self-deprecating sense of humor or Euro-trash slaughtering ingenuity.
The movie would be a delightfully convoluted mystery, if it wasn't fundamentally undermined by a third act plot twist any observant viewer would spot in the flick's first reel, a stilted climax, and a weak villain. Said villain (who will remain nameless here so as not to spoil things for viewers brave enough to give Striking Distance a try) has oddly tall hair, talks a tough game but eventually turns into a simpering weenie reminiscent of Dirty Harry's Scorpio Killer, and dies with the baffled, wide-eyed, almost tearful facial expression of a child who has just had his candy stolen by a bully. Hans Gruber he ain't. The movie ends with what you might consider the most exciting boat chase since From Russia with Love, provided From Russia with Love and Striking Distance are the only two movies with boat chases that you saw between 1963 and 1993. The fact that the villain repeated squeals, "Stop it!" when Hardy bumps his speed boat doesn't help matters. Herrington does his best to transform Hardy into a badass action hero (despite the windbreaker), complete with explosions, underwater villain throttling, and post-victory punnery, but it all rings hollow considering the depressing trauma to which the Hardy-Detillo clan has been subjected. In the final analysis, Hardy is in a no-win situation -- even if he catches the bad guy, he's still a drunk with a messed up family.
Regardless of the flick's hackneyed plot, wooden dialogue, and flat characters, Rowdy Herrington managed to assemble one heck of a cast. How Bruce Willis was roped into this flick post-Die Hard is a complete mystery (though, the fact that he was also post-Hudson Hawk and pre-Pulp Fiction may provide a clue). The rest of the cast is equally amazing, even if most of the actors weren't big names yet. Dennis Farina, Tom Sizemore, and John Mahoney are predictably awesome. Andre Braugher (The Mist), Tom Atkins (The Fog), and Brion James are also on board to add texture to the flick in minor roles. The cast elevates the material, but can't transcend it. For every clunky line of dialog their considerable talent makes believable, there's a howler that completely wrong-foots them. To Dennis Farina's constant quoting of old Italian proverbs, Willis tepidly responds: "There's an old Irish proverb: 'Never listen to old Italian proverbs.'" Badda-bing! A medium shot of Willis, Farina, and Sizemore weeping and wailing on the bridge from which Jimmy hurled himself is so unintentionally funny that I nearly wet myself. The romantic banter between Willis and Sarah Jessica Parker is meant to be sly, but is groan-inducing instead. "We shouldn't be doing this," she says as they're about to, well, do it. "We should be shot," he agrees. "We should shoot each other," she quips. "Too much paperwork," he observes. "Why don't you shoot me?" I interject (and you will, too).
The transfer of Striking Distance on this Blu-ray is unremarkable -- slightly sharper and more detailed than a DVD, but nowhere near as vivid as a great high definition transfer. The color palette is drab with weak black levels. Audio is presented in a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 mix that is underwhelming, but limited only by the source.
There are no extras -- not even a trailer for the film.
Striking Distance is a cinematic sideshow, a curiosity with a head-scratching mismatch between its weak script and uniformly strong cast. Like the movie, the Blu-ray presentation is flat and unsatisfying. Don't waste your time or money on this one.
Guilty as charged.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (French)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (Portuguese)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1993
MPAA Rating: Rated R