Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Striking Distance

Pittsburgh is the setting for this routine crime thriller by Rowdy Herrington, the director of ROAD HOUSE. Originally filmed as THREE RIVERS, it was reshaped a bit during post-production and rechristened with a more action-oriented title. Outside of a couple of decent chase scenes (one of which was recycled in Jim Wynorski’s ABLAZE), STRIKING DISTANCE is memorable only for its bonanza of kickass character actors.

Tom Hardy (Bruce Willis) is a Pittsburgh police detective. It’s in his blood—his father, two uncles, and three cousins are cops too. Two years after his father (FRASIER pop John Mahoney) is murdered by a serial killer and his cousin Jimmy (Robert Pastorelli from MURPHY BROWN) commits suicide in disgrace, Tom is reduced to wearing shorts on river patrol and generally just not giving a damn. Until it appears that the strangler that stalked Pittsburgh two years earlier is back and targeting Tom’s former girlfriends, even though a man was convicted of those earlier crimes and is sentenced to die in the electric chair.

The screenplay by Herrington and Martin Kaplan (THE DISTINGUISHED GENTLEMAN) is full of red herrings, flashbacks, and wild coincidences. It also conjures up a weirdo killer who tortures his victims by playing his theme song, Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs’ “Little Red Riding Hood.”

Hardy suspects the killer is a cop, but gets the runaround from his uncle Nick (the great Dennis Farina), a department bigwig. Everyone on the force thinks he’s a rat for testifying against Jimmy on a police brutality charge, so the only help Tom can rely on is his new partner, a rookie named Jo Christman (Parker). Also co-starring are Tom Sizemore (SAVING PRIVATE RYAN) as Farina's other cop son, Brion James (BLADE RUNNER), Timothy Busfield (THIRTYSOMETHING), Andre Braugher (BROOKLYN NINE-NINE), and Tom Atkins (THE FOG) in one scene as another Hardy uncle.

STRIKING DISTANCE is…okay. It’s a failure as a mystery, because we know Bruce Willis is always right, and it doesn’t take an experienced filmgoer to be able to figure out the real killer’s identity. However, everyone plays it seriously, aside from a few de rigeur Willis one-liners, and Herrington, if nothing else, knows how to pace an action movie. Nope, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense—what’s the killer’s obsession with that song?—but the movie is painless, occasionally exciting, and gives a lot of interesting actors something to do. It didn’t fare well with audiences or critics in the fall of 1993, but I think it plays a little better than that.

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