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Striking Distance

Reviewed By Jack Sommersby
Posted 09/14/20 09:28:21

"Slightly Neglected Action Fare"
3 stars (Average)

Was pretty much a box-office dud back in its day, but I think a retrospect will give it the respect it kinda deserves.

The Bruce Willis star vehicle Striking Distance has been lambasted by critics from coast to coast, and while it certainly has its share of flaws it's modestly entertaining all the same and holds one's interest throughout. The co-writer and director Rowdy Herrington made a fabulous debut with the nifty 1988 serial-killer thriller Jack's Back, and a year later gave us the alactric Patrick Swayze action flick Road House; with Striking Distance he's combined the two into an action flick involving a serial killer, this time in the city of Pittsburgh. The story opens with the "Three Rivers Strangler" doing a terrified woman in, and days later is spotted in a car and an elaborate chase with the police ensuing into the downtown area, with the lead pursuing car occupied by Detective Tom Hardy and his police-chief dad (the invaluable John Mahoney); their car winds up crashing, with Hardy awakening to discover his dad has been shot to death. As it happens, Hardy has been largely alienated by his fellow officers for having testified against his longtime partner Jimmy (a forceful Robert Pastorelli) for police brutality against a suspect. After his father's death Jimmy is to be sentenced but instead decides to commit suicide by jumping off a bridge into the strong-current waters, whose body is never recovered. Forward three years later where a now-alcoholic Hardy has transferred himself over to river-boat patrol out of guilt over Tommy's death and his desire to escape the homicide division where he's looked down on with disdain. Hardy has isolated himself and lives in a houseboat, spending his evenings drinking rum and doing undemanding police work during the days like ticketing speeding boaters in no-wave zones. And Willis is perfectly willing to underplay and etch a convincing portrait of a wounded man rather than indulging in two-fisted machismo; emotionally, Hardy is similar to Willis's down-on-his-luck ex-Secret Service agent in 1991's fine The Last Boy Scout, and Willis proves yet again his uncanny ability at lending everyman gravitas to action-hero roles - he's never cartoonish, always identifiable, and his performance here helps erase his abrasive prima-donna antics in the catastrophic Hudson Hawk. Granted, Tom Hardy is hardly a fascinating character, but Willis makes him the kind of appealing protagonist you're glad to root for; and unlike many lesser actors, he doesn't overdo Hardy's moral righteousness - you simply believe in his innate goodness so we can see why he felt obligated to testify against Tommy: he simply would have felt corrupt in doing anything but.This being the movies, of course, Hardy's nondescript existence is upended when a new string of women's bodies start appearing dumped on the very same waters he's patrolling, all marking the same wounds as the Three Rivers Killer. Only this time the corpses are all of women Hardy has had romantic relationships with. On top of that, he's been assigned a new partner, Jo Christman (a solid Sarah Jessica Parker), who's strictly by-the-book and resistant to Hardy's attempts to ferret out the killer given his no-longer-detective status.

While the lighting by Mac Ahlberg is routine and the non-widescreen compositions really no great shakes, Striking Distance is unremarkable but functional stuff. Herrington is a born entertainer, and, being a Pittsburgh native, he gives this unheralded city an organic identity all its own - it has texture and interesting architectural detail, and this helps the proceedings slightly overcome its familiarities in the vein of the commendable serial-killer tales The Bedroom Window (Baltimore) and Jennifer Eight (coastal Northern California). And the supporting characters uncommonly nuanced for this genre, most notably Tom Sizemore's Danny (Jimmy's disgruntled brother) and Dennis Farina's Captain Nick DeTillo (Jimmy's father). The love interest that develops between Hardy and Christman is formulaic to the nth degree, no doubt, but Parker, usually abrasive, goes easy on the histrionics and emerges as a creditable actress for once - she doesn't attempt to merely coast on a charisma she simply doesn't have. Herrington has an eye for action, and there's a sequence with Hardy firing a flare gun at a moving car that's superb, and the grand finale with two speedboats is adequately enough staged as far as these things go. As Roger Ebert has duly noted, though, the mystery angle is weak. Basically the whodunit angle is quite negligible in that there are really only two viable suspects, with one so blatantly telegraphed he's clearly a red herring (a more deft filmmaker would've installed a logical third suspect to throw us off balance), so Striking Distance can't help but come off as hopelessly naive - you can't help but think, "Wait, these artists are being paid astronomical sums to churn out something so easily surmisable?" Still, the movie has its pluses that succeed in outweighing its minuses. I can't imagine anyone enthusiastically applauding the movie for its originality, but on a strictly popcorn-movie basis Striking Distance hold its own. (The much-heralded The Fugitive that came out the same year I found hollowly mechanical.) No, it's not anything close to a Die Hard, but it doesn't portend to be. It tries its damnedest to entertain and does a functional job of that despite its missteps. And the adept Bruce Willis keeps everything properly aligned - you root for Hardy so much because this masterful actor can't help but remain a compelling presence on the silver screen, and if you can get past it not measuring up to that extraordinary classic, you should have a pretty good time all things considered.

Worthy of a rainy Saturday-afternoon viewing.

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