They shouldn’t have put him in the water, if they didn’t want him to make waves.
Entire Story In Fewer Words Than Are In This Sentence:
All Cops Are Bastards, Except Willis.
Much like “Dirty” Harry Callahan before him, and unlike the homoerotic heroes we know and love from classics like Commando or Deadly Prey, Thomas Hardy (Bruce Willis) is a dude who definitely lies down with women. The whole plot of Striking Distance revolves around the serial murders of Hardy’s former lovers, all of the female persuasion. It’s almost like he is being punished for his inexcusable heterosexuality, in much the same way Callahan’s partners (both police and romantic) tend to be at high risk in the Dirty Harry movies. There is a moment late in the second act in which Hardy and his partner (both police and romantic by this point), Jo Christman (Sarah Jessica Parker), are lying in bed together and she says, “There’s something I should tell you.” “You’re really a man?” Hardy jokes, despite the fact this is at least the second time they’ve been to bed together. I’m grasping at straws here because, between his steamy sex scene with young Carrie Bradshaw and his many doomed ex-girlfriends, Hardy is a distressingly heterosexual protagonist.
A respectable baker’s dozen deaths onscreen, plus three serial killings that have already happened by the time the movie begins, and a suicide that is repeatedly mentioned.
How Bad Is It Really?
I’ve already compared it to the Dirty Harry movies, and in many ways it does play almost like a sixth entry in that franchise, with John McClane transplanted into the protagonist role, but make no mistake: this is decidedly Dead Pool-level Dirty Harry material, and in no way up to the quality of the first two movies. Cliches abound, of course, and a lot of the opening and closing sequences are taken up with lengthy, goofy chase scenes that provoke more unintentional laughter than thrills. The Big Bad, when ultimately revealed, is a pretty campy villain who is hard to take seriously, and the revelation is the kind of cheat that would have one Annie Wilkes screaming her head off at the cockadoodie dirty birdies who wrote this movie (Marty Kaplan and director Rowdy Herrington, who also helmed the 80s Action classic Road House).
Still, when viewed 30 years after its release, it has that certain charm only mediocre 90s thrillers (and the 80s Action trashterpieces that paved their way) can offer. Plus the cast is star-studded, or at least recognizable-character-actor-studded: in addition to the two leads, the supporting cast includes Dennis Farina, Tom Sizemore (at his sleazy 90s best), Brion James, Robert Pastorelli, John Mahoney, a young, slim and fiery Andre Braugher, and (just barely) the great Tom Atkins. It’s not true 80s Action, not really, but like Ricochet before it and any number of Liam Neeson movies from the past 15 years, it carries on some of the traditions well.
As befits an 80s Action hero, the best ones all go to Hardy, often when needling a fellow officer who’s giving him shit:
“Hey, you’re his partner; how’s his wife?”
“Maybe you need a drink, Nick; might ease the pain of being wrong.”
“Let me rephrase that…” (racks shotgun)
“Say a name or say goodbye, motherfucker, I don’t care which!”
Those last two are actually examples of Hardy’s interrogation style when questioning a perp, but my favorite is another barb for Stupid Chief (and Hardy’s uncle) Nick Detillo (Farina): Nick tells Hardy, “There’s an old Italian saying: don’t scald your tongue on another man’s soup,” to which Hardy replies, “Yeah, there’s an old Irish saying: never listen to old Italian sayings.”
“Who’s the best cop now?”
“Want to give her one more pop before they take her away?” the always classy Det. Eddie Eiler (James) asks Hardy as they drag his former lover’s corpse out of the river.
Stupid Political Content:
Again like the Dirty Harry franchise, lots of cop politics, mainly revolving around Hardy being ostracized by others on the force (especially Eiler) for doing the right thing and testifying against his partner (and cousin) Jimmy Detillo (Pastorelli) for excessively beating a suspect. Hardy is convinced throughout that the serial killer they’ve been hunting is a cop, and it’s pretty obvious there is a massive cover-up going on (Farina’s mustache implicates him from the moment he appears onscreen), so it becomes almost a Serpico thing, with Hardy as the lone wolf out to expose the corruption in the force. There’s also the gender politics of Hardy coming to terms with a very capable female partner, which calls to mind the third Dirty Harry movie, The Enforcer; Harry actually comes off better for not sleeping with his partner (though she does end up murdered, so maybe it’s a wash, feminism-wise). Anyway, Hardy is that most fictional of characters: a good man who is also a good cop, out to expose the corruption of the “few bad apples” in his organization.
Was There A Stupid Chief?
Absolutely, and a conniving one, too! He secretly saddles Hardy with his female partner, who turns out to be an Internal Affairs officer hired to scrutinize him, and that’s before the rather obvious truth is revealed: he has been covering for the killer all along, making him a similar Stupid/Evil Chief as Hal Holbrook’s memorable one in Magnum Force. This completes the trifecta of 70s Dirty Harry movie comparisons while, again, leaning closer to the quality of the 80s ones.
The killer likes to drive a little remote control patrol car around the floor on which his terrorized victim lies before the murder, during which he calls the police and plays the Sam the Sham song “Li’l Red Riding Hood” to taunt them. The actual murders, though, are pretty ordinary, with our killer beginning as a strangler and later simply shooting his victims before dumping them in the river. The killer himself ultimately has more fake-out deaths than the original Terminator, but the final one that sticks is the most novel, and saved for last: a taser right in the mouth after a pre-mortem one-liner (see above) re-using his own catch phrase against him.
Was There An Atomic Blast At The End?
No, but there are a couple of real good implausible car explosions, first during the opening chase scene and later when Hardy shoots a flare into a fleeing suspect’s car and blows it to smithereens.
What You Learned:
Never trust a cop, especially if he has a mustache.