Striking Distance

The murdered dad, the bitter cop, and oh yeah, the serial killer
★★
☆☆☆☆
Released: 
1993
Director: 
Rowdy Herrington
Starring: 
Bruce Willis, Sarah Jessica Parker, Denis Farina, Tom Sizemore
The Setup: 
Disgraced cop just can't let that last case go!
Discussion: 

This has been vaguely on my list since it came out, then my friend watched it recently and said it's agreeably awful, and there we go, to me it came. This is from Bruce Willis' fallow period, where he had made the transition to movies only to find that no one wanted to see him very much, and he pumped out horrible movies like this and Hudson Hawk and Color of Night, one after another. This was co-written and directed by Rowdy Herrington, auteur and former stuntman who brought us the venerable Road House. And here we go!

We open with a police car, sirens blaring, then realize that it's a remote-controlled model that is tormenting a victim. A man takes a body and dumps it in the river. We discover that Willis is a cop from a long line of cops who has somehow turned on the force, and is disliked. His name is Thomas Hardy, but it's important to understand that this is NOT the same Thomas Hardy who wrote Jude the Obscure and Tess of the D'Urburvilles. He is on the way to the policeman's ball with his cop dad, who is friends with Dennis Farina as Nick, and his two cop sons, Jimmy and Danny, played by Tom Sizemore. They get a call that the killer is escaping in a car, leading to a big car chase. The cars get into an accident, and Hardy's father is killed--only, he is told, the father was shot by the killer, and did not perish in the accident.

Then! Hardy is testifying against Nick's son, his ex partner, as being the killer. We don't really know why, except that Hardy thinks the guy drove like a cop and shot his victims with a police-issue gun. Then Jimmy is on a bridge, about to kill himself, with Dad Nick and brother Danny there, but then Hardy shows up to talk him down--which rings as a bit odd, considering that Danny is his partner that he has turned on and is accusing of murder. Danny jumps. Everyone is distraught. Then--two years later!

Now Hardy has been stripped of his detective status (the only thing we're missing is the scene of him turning in his badge and gun) and assigned to river patrol. This is taking place in Pittsburgh, which has plenty of rivers. He is ye olde bitter cop with a drinking problem and series of failed relationships who is an asshole to his new partners (he dumps one in the river) and just an all-round fuck-up it is difficult to like. He then gets a new partner--who is a woman!--in the form of Sarah Jessica Parker as Jo Christman. They have the expected friction, but earn respect early when terrorists have hijacked a coal barge (terrorists have hijacked a COAL BARGE, you see) and Jo helps Hardy apprehend those coal barge-stealin' motherfuckers. I myself was unaware of the simmering threat of coal barge theft that plagued American shores, but let's just say that this movie stripped the scales from my eyes.

Meanwhile, another body shows up, and it seems that the serial killer who has been inactive for two years is now back. And furthermore he's killing all the woman Hardy has been boinking, and there have been quite a few, as he is apparently somewhat of a man-slut. He investigates around, causing several people to say "Dammit! You're not a homicide cop anymore!" as well as "Dammit! That case has been closed for years!" because Nick has thrown some schlub in the can for it, someone any five-year-old could see is not guilty, and refuses to hear any talk that the killer may still be out there. What is Nick hiding? Then Sizemore as Danny is also lingering, with some sort of long-standing troubled relationship to Hardy, and one has cause to observe that Sizemore plays a drunk excellently. He really even LOOKS drunk. In here Hardy grows closer to Jo, then they start fucking. It is a testament to Willis' performance as a drunken shiftless asshole loser that when Jo sleeps with him, you think "Eeeew, you're going to sleep with that drunken shiftless asshole loser?"

So Jo calls and convinces Hardy to go to the policeman's ball, where many cannot believe he would dare show his face, and--sudden Tom Atkins! It's always nice to see a friendly, familiar face. By the way, there's also this other cop who has shown up every five minutes to taunt Hardy and call him an asshole. There is the required brawl, in which you will notice some editing issues as suddenly Hardy's shirt is ripped despite nothing happening to cause it, which is apparently just one of many continuity errors, most of which I did not notice. In here, more bodies of woman Hardy knew are showing up, and he believes the killer is dumping them in the river specifically for him to find. Hardy and Jo repair home to make sweet love, then are out patrolling the river by night when they see some guy dumping a body. There is then a boat-on-car chase (good thing that road goes right along the river!) in which Hardy shoots a flare that sets the car on fire and causes it to crash and explode! Too bad they couldn't have fit in a boat-on-helicopter chase. But then, turns out that what was dumped in the river really WAS just a carpet! No body! And Hardy looks like a chump once again. Not to mention that we're supposed to understand that the killer is framing Hardy as the killer, which you might not even notice because it's all so poorly set up.

SPOILERS > > >
Then they call a special tribunal to determine Hardy's competence and witness number one is--Jo Christman! Only her name is really Emily something, and she's been a spy all along! Which also implies that she jumped into bed with him even more recklessly than it seemed. Anyway, she testifies that Hardy is the finest cop she has ever known [in the biblical sense], but the prosecution doesn't want to hear that! THEN!--this whole angle is dropped.

Then another body shows up right outside Hardy's houseboat (did I mention that he lives on a houseboat? Why do embittered cops ALWAYS live on houseboats? To think that the waterways of our nation are lined with bitter cops...) and around then I noticed that there's only 15 minutes left, but nothing about the movie gives you the feeling that it's about to end.

Then right on cue--sudden climax! Somehow Hardy figures to go out to this house in the woods where he played as a boy. There he finds Jo and Danny, all tied up, and is soon tied up himself. And the killer is... JIMMY! The cop from the beginning, Nick's son, Danny's brother, Hardy's ex-partner, the one who jumped to his death--or DID he? Nope, he lived, and chilled in secrecy for a few years, then decided to come out of hiding and start killing again and torment Hardy. Hey man, it could happen. Each of our characters gets a gun to their temple at one point, and Danny is blabbing about this, that, and the other in such a way that makes him seem too crazy to devise such a diabolical scheme. Then--dad shows up! And we find out that actually HE (that is, Nick) killed Hardy's dad because he was so shocked that his own son was the serial killer and Hardy's dad saw and, well, you know what can happen in the heat of the moment.

So as if that weren't enough SHOCK for one night's movie rental, Nick finally shoots his own son, but not before Jimmy kills him first. Toss in some patricide, why not? Then Hardy leaps through the window while still handcuffed to a chair, and then a fight, then a river chase, then a jump off a tiny waterfall (not very impressive), then back onto land, more fight, and I forgot what finally happened but Jimmy is defeated. Then Hardy is all vindicated and presumably gets back on the force or whatever. There's a little coda where he visits his Dad's grave and meets Jo's secret 4yo daughter, and learns one last secret about Jo: She was Bob Jenkinson, linebacker for the Steelers, just seven weeks prior.
< < < SPOILERS END

So it sucks. We know that. But WHY exactly does it suck? Mainly because this is not just a FEW cop movie cliches, it is pretty much a compendium of every single one of them. Hardy is the best homicide detective. He comes from a long line of cops. He is ostracized for turning against the force. He has daddy issues and is broken up over the loss of his father. He is demoted to some less-effectual line of law enforcement. He is a divorced, recovering alcoholic. He is an asshole to his partners. He has initial trouble accepting a female partner. It goes on and on. After a while it truly seems like this movie is trying to throw in every single cliche, and there just becomes so many little story elements not only is it ludicrous, it's simply hard to even follow. For example,the whole long prologue with the serial killer and his dad and Nick's sons and Hardy testifying against his partner and the suicide--and the movie's just setting itself up at that point! That's only fifteen minutes in! And it just continues from there. When this comes back at the end, it's not that it makes any sense, it just that you KNEW it was going to.

It seems like there must be more to say about this, but there's really not. All of the actors are doing their best to pretend that this makes sense, and that there is something here that could plausibly be taken seriously. This is the kind of bad movie in which each scene is not bad in itself--or, let's say, not worse than anything else out there--it's just that when you put all these scenes together, you gradually start to realize the sheer amount of cliches and story elements that pretty much each deserve their own movie, but are here piled on top of each other. Okay, now that I think about terrorists hijacking a Pittsburgh coal barge and trying to make a daring river escape, or the boat-on-car chase, I can't really say that the scenes he make sense among themselves. But you know what I mean.

The point is, this isn't so much laugh-out-loud awful so much as My-God-What-Has-Humaity-Come-To? awful, which can be its own form of amusement. Poor Bruce. I'm glad he recovered and moved on. But will you? That's the question.

Should you watch it: 

If you want to see something really bad.