Striking Distance (1993)


USA. 1993.


Director – Rowdy Herrington, Screenplay – Rowdy Herrington & Martin Kaplan, Producers – Hunt Lowry, Arnon Milchan & Tony Thomopoulos, Photography – Mac Ahlberg, Underwater Photography – Al Giddings, Music – Brad Fiedel, Special Effects Supervisor – Allen L. Hall, Production Design – Gregg Fonseca. Production Company – Columbia


Bruce Willis (Tom Hardy), Sarah Jessica Parker (Jo Christman/Emily Harper), Dennis Farina (Captain Nick Detillo), Brion James (Edward Filer), Tom Sizemore (Danny Detillo), Robert Pastorelli (Jimmy Detillo), John Mahoney (Vincent Hardy)


Pittsburgh police detective Tom Hardy has been demoted to river patrol due to his anti-authoritarian attitude and an alcohol problem, as well as his insistent belief that the person the police arrested as the serial killer known as the Polish Hill Strangler is not the real killer. Now after two years, he starts to receive calls that precipitate a new series of Polish Hill killings. He has to take on a police department that is hostile to him in order to stop the killer.

Most Bruce Willis action vehicles of the early 1990s – ie. everything released after Die Hard (1988) – suffered from a box-office poison where the Willis ego seemed to turn audiences off en masse. As a result, Striking Distance did almost no business. Some of these Willis vehicles – the likes of Hudson Hawk (1991) and The Last Boy Scout (1991) – are quite good films that died due to public dislike of Willis. In the case of Striking Distance though, the reasons for the film’s failure are simply its’ failure to ignite as a vehicle.

As a film, Striking Distance seems caught in an identity crisis between whether it wants to be an action film or a psycho-thriller. As an action vehicle, it seems routine. The various car chases, boat chases, fight sequences are passably directed. However, one has seen them all before and moreover none of them are particularly well connected to the rest of the film. There seems no reason for a car chase that takes up the first five minutes of the film, and a sequence where Bruce Willis conducts an arrest on a barge (exactly what illegal acts are being conducted aboard are never stated) seems to be grafted onto the film from somewhere else and has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the film. Even the title has no meaning.

Where Striking Distance does work is surprisingly as a character piece. Rowdy Herrington is effective in being able to put a finger on the inner mood of Willis’s character. Surprisingly, Willis comes to the fore and gives the film what strength it has, reigning his characteristic flip wit in and convincingly coming out as the person with the strongly principled moral line who has been burned by the system. Unfortunately, the psycho element of the story is not well used and the killer never seems obsessive enough to make a worthwhile nemesis for Willis. The unfortunate thing is also that these character driven-scenes make the film, which was sold as an action vehicle, slow-going in long stretches. Sarah Jessica Parker, quite a few years before Sex and the City (1998-2004, seems wooden and out of her depth – in particular, she being lumbered with a wholly unbelievable character twist partway through.

Director Rowdy Herrington was previously known for the Patrick Swayze hit Road House (1989). He has faded away and done little else of distinction since. His one other genre effort was his first film Jack’s Back (1988) about a series of modern-day Jack the Ripper copycat killings.

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