Striking Distance? The title of this film by Rowdy Herrington ("Road House") makes no sense to me, even after watching it all the way through. This serial-killer, bad-cop drama (or cop bad drama, take your pick) really has nothing to do with getting close enough to strike. No circle tightens. No one waits to get close enough. The killer of young women that Det. Tom Hardy (Bruce Willis) has coincidentally slept with is obviously already within striking distance, and we learn this early in the film. Distance or proximity is never an issue. It's just about Hardy wanting to catch this guy, with revenge more motivation than serving or protecting. You see, an early chase scene--in which Hardy and his cop father (John Mahoney) are en route to a policeman's ball before they peel off and assist--results in dad's death. Everything about the Polish Hill Strangler's M.O. makes Hardy think that the serial killer who killed his dad is a cop or ex-cop. That, of course, sets him at odds with everyone else in the force who thinks he's just being his rebel-cop loose cannon self again, and a poor loser. It doesn't help that he's also every other cliché in the police blotter: an alcoholic, a Jim Rockford-style loner who lives on a houseboat, a veteran with a new rookie partner, and a guy who was busted from the ranks of detectives and is now pounding a beat. Only the beat he's assigned to is the River Patrol.
"Striking Distance" is set and filmed in Pittsburgh, where apparently the three rivers are full of red herrings. First we're set up to think that maybe it's a bad cop on the force who's behind it all, then suspicion falls to an old friend, and even Hardy himself. Real clues are as scarce as drinkable water. "Striking Distance" is so full of TV talent that I thought it might be a made-for-TV movie, especially with all the cop-movie clichés and seriously melodramatic--oh heck, why mince words, just plain BAD--writing, but people paid good money to see this in the theaters and probably left thinking they should have gone miniature golfing instead.
That's not to say the entire film is a bust. The opening sequence is unique and promising. It shows a radio-controlled toy cop car motoring in close-up to where we first think it's the real thing. Then we see it's a toy, and soon after, a deadly toy used by the serial killer to torment his victims. To torment police, whom he telephones, he plays the old Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs' song, "Li'l Red Riding Hood." I wish the rest of the film were as engaging. The river rat angle also showed promise. It's just that Herrington didn't do a thing with it other than use it to show once more what an anti-authority kind of guy Hardy is. We get one crummy day on the water with him and new partner Jo Christman (Sarah Jessica Parker, "Sex and the City") and that's it. There's no real relationship development, but because the script calls for the two of them to sack out, it's instant-on, despite a lack of chemistry (and affection) between the two stars.
Frankly, with people like Parker and Willis, plus "Law & Order" veteran Dennis Farina, Timothy Busfield ("thirtysomething"), and character actor Brion James (you'll recognize him when you see him), I expected better. Even worse than the clichés that prop up this film are the melodramatic and overacted performances. There's a nice take-over scene on a river barge that, like the other interesting scenes, is quickly undercut by soap-opera tropes. In sequence after sequence, action yields to trite melodrama and dialogue. Throw in a bridge scene from "It's a Wonderful Life" and I'm about to jump off myself. A couple of action scenes (including one that almost out-Bullitts "Bullitt" with a police car chase going airborne on big hills) and some interesting Pittsburgh scenery aren't enough to save this film . . . or viewers. Nothing is fleshed out, not even a backstory about three boys who grew up as friends wanting to be cops like their dads. We keep seeing a picture of them as little guys with big dreams, but this picture isn't worth a thousand words. It would have been nice to know more . . . or have more original action, if that's the aim. As is, "Striking Distance" is 102 minutes that could be better spent renting a boat and going on a river yourself.
"Striking Distance" is rated R for violence, strong language, and a sex scene that shows diddly squat. Mostly the rating comes from foul-mouthed cops who can't talk to each other without shouting and using the f-word.
For a 1993 catalog title this looks better than I thought it might, but there's still plenty of grain and zero 3-dimensionality. Black levels are sufficient at best, because things get a little murky around the edges in night scenes. Edges are a little indistinct on some of the figures as well, but having seen this in the theaters (I went miniature golfing) I can't say if the culprit is the print or the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer to a 25GB disc--the latter a possible tip-off that the bit-rate might have been a bit skimpy. As for the colors, skin-tones are generally fine, but the saturation level varies pretty dramatically from scene to scene.
The Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack in English, French, or Portuguese is livelier, with clear and crisp dialogue, good distribution of sound, and a nice wide spread across the front speakers. Given all the external scenes, I wanted more in the way of rear-speaker ambient sound, but all of the speakers really don't kick in until the high-concept action scenes. An additional audio option is in Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with subtitles in English, English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish.
There are no bonus features except for the BD-Live function, which presumably enables jaded viewers to complain to each other about what a crappy movie this is except for a handful of cool scenes.
Clichés and bad writing strangle "Striking Distance" more quickly and thoroughly than the serial killer that Bruce Willis is after. You owe me, Willis.