Striking Distance (1993) Review
Striking Distance was directed by Rowdy Herrington (Road House, The Stick Up), written by Herrington and Marty Kaplan (Max Q, The Distinguished Gentleman), and stars Bruce Willis (Marauders, Hard Kill), Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City, Divorce), Dennis Farina (Midnight Run, Purple Violets), Tom Sizemore (Atomica, Bullet Train Down), Brion James (Armed and Dangerous, Blue Sunshine), Robert Pastorelli (Eraser, Murphy Brown), Tom Atkins (Trick, The Ninth Configuration), and John Mahoney (Frasier, Atlantis: The Lost Empire). It’s about a disgraced homicide detective and his new partner uncovering the identity of a taunting serial killer who may have a personal connection to the detective.
The Plot: Those behind the story of Striking Distance didn’t exactly strike from a new angle of storytelling, but the structure and substance are more than competent enough to carry the overall narrative forward while never feeling too familiar.
In 1991, Detective Hardy (Willis) has recently come forward with evidence that put his cousin, fellow officer Jimmy Detillo (Pastorelli), in prison for excessive force. While Hardy’s father Vince (Mahoney) thinks he did the right thing, everyone else in the department is far less satisfied with his decision. A lot of movies have gone down the disgraced cop route, but Herrington and Kaplan combined it with a familial connection, making for a slight but appreciated detour. On their way to a celebration, Hardy gets into a chase with a man who he thinks could be the serial killer acting in the area, which ends with Vince dead, Hardy empty-handed, and Jimmy later dead by his own hand.
A couple of years later, Hardy begrudgingly patrols the rivers with new partner Jo (Parker), waiting for a chance to clear his name. As luck(?) would have it the murders start again, but no one on the force, including Nick (Farina), the father of the dead man, nor his ex-partner Eiler (James) believe him, which of course sends Hardy and Jo down the well-trodden path of these kinds of films with a bit of assistance from Hardy’s cousin Danny (Sizemore).
Familiar plot beats keep Striking Distance in the same gear that one would expect, but by keeping the details a family affair, with characters like Hardy’s uncle Fred (Atkins) and ex-girlfriends littering the proceedings, it hits a bit harder than formula normally allows.
The Characters: It’s less correlated with the writing than it is the acting, but there are some good illustrations of archetypical cops and crooks. While the characters can be a bit one-note, the script at least justifies itself well.
Hardy used to be a standup cop to his own detriment, clearly wanting the best for his family but never sacrificing honour for their sake. That’s a difficult call to make, which backfires on him eventually, sending him into an abyss of alcohol-aided regret and reclusive behaviour. He can be hard to like at times, but he’s not one-dimensional since it’s clear that he’s become disappointed in himself for failing to live up to the family tradition of being a spotless officer, and that he just can’t catch a break from tragedy.
Jo at first shares that negative perception of her partner, who wants nothing to do with her, but comes around once she sees that he has a reason for acting the way he does. She isn’t just a cheap way of peeling back his layers, though her by-the-book approach to her job is strictly generic. There are parts of a real person here, with a rough personal life and a child from a failed relationship; Striking Distance doesn’t beat around the idea of romance, but thankfully there’s at least some development there.
Philadelphia’s finest all get their own bits and pieces, mostly coming down to how they see Hardy. Just about everyone understands why he acts the way he does now, but different characters change how they act around him too.
Nick and Danny want to forgive the disgraced cop but find it hard to do so with his insistence that the killer has come back, whereas Eiler and his partner can’t stand a man who’d turn in his own family and want even less to do with his theories. Hardy and Jo are the main characters here, so the perceptions are surface level, but they work well in bringing two cliche but complicated leads to life; as do all of the performances.
The Mystery: A decent chunk of time passes before the film gets to its point, and laying out future details isn’t always smoothly done, but the writers did a palatable job at shrouding the killer, if not the motive.
Getting things back into motion after jumping two years forward isn’t executed as well as it could’ve been, as Hardy demands the case be reopened, alleging that the man who was initially convicted for them didn’t commit any crimes. Agreeing or disagreeing is hard since the movie never shows the man before or after this point, and Herrington didn’t circle back around with as much care as he should have. Some crucial details are accounted for, like Jimmy’s body never being found, but it’s a clunky restart overall.
Keeping the two investigators insulated from assistance isn’t a new tactic in mystery films, but Striking Distance does this much better than it promises, even when it eventually strains credibility. Obviously, no one in the police force wants to reopen a closed case, and with the killer’s M.O. not matching the prior murders, it’s not hard to understand the decision. Pair this with the new killings having a romantic connection to Hardy, and the potential reintegration of the detective with the case is essentially eliminated – though the motive is an easy guess, Striking Distance keeps its options open for most of its middle portion.
Investigatory goings on after this point aren’t particularly special, with the movie stating that the person responsible has to be a cop from its opening scene and repeating the sentiment with every waterlogged or washed-up body that Hardy and Jo come across.
Clues are satisfyingly drip-fed, but with such a janky debut, a lot of the detective work can be forgone and accurate conclusions jumped to. It’s a shame, as Herrington and Kaplan could’ve had a much more interesting conundrum by changing the identity but not the motive, but the writers jumped the shark on what was shaping up to be decent, grounded procedural.
The Technics: Notably troubled during its production but showing few signs of botching, the filmmakers behind Striking Distance did a good job of sealing the cracks to make a perfectly acceptable film from a purely technical standpoint.
Certain reveals may not come as surprises to more seasoned viewers, but with the pacing remaining at a fairly quick level, the rouse is able to be maintained for longer and the more boilerplate elements are passable. Sometimes scenes are cut too short, but this may be a net positive when considering the potential for blatant signposting or premature audience conclusion.
Largely average in all other terms, Herrington did at least get a visual degree of separation from the setting, which is far off from the expected coasts. It’s a purely surface-level change, but it did allow for different ground to be covered, with the Ohio, Allegheny, and Monongahela rivers becoming setpieces for the handful of action scenes inside Striking Distance’s runtime.
Certainly not at the top of the 90s mystery/thriller mountain, Striking Distance at least provides some good entertainment and visual personality that many films just didn’t have, along with a decent dissection of family ties. The film picks up a spare.