Bruce Willis has certainly had an interesting Hollywood career, being catapulted into stardom after getting picked up for top ten action movie, Die Hard. Before then his most prolific work was in the TV comedy Moonlighting, and after a decent if by-the-numbers Die Hard sequel he dipped back in and out of the comedy genre with little success - Hudson Hawk, Bonfire of the Vanities and Death Becomes Her - also doing the highly underrated Shane 'Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang' Black-scripted actioner The Last Boy Scout (which was actually funnier than all of the aforementioned films put together). His career has continued to be hit and miss all the way through to the present: fat and lean years presenting everything from Pulp Fiction, Twelve Monkeys and Tears of the Sun - showing his best - to The Jackal, Last Man Standing and Hart's War at the low end of the scale. Whenever he hits a lull, he appears to pull himself back into favour with another good Die Hard movie. The man's quite prolific - having done something like thirty lead roles in just twenty years - so it is almost understandable, but anyone who does that many movies must surely have plenty bad mixed in with the good. In terms of his straight roles, the insipid sex-thriller The Colour of Night (made during that post-Basic Instinct era where these kinds of films were particularly popular)and the bland cop thriller Striking Distance have to be his worst, and it is the latter that we now get to take a closer look at.
Pittsburg Detective Tom Hardy has just lost both his cop father and the suspect they were chasing after a devastating crash. When a suspect is apprehended and convicted, Hardy smells a conspiracy, and refuses to let go of the matter, promptly being demoted to river patrol duty in a bid to quell his rebellious streak. But when dead bodies start popping up in the river, he unofficially gets back onto the case, plagued by bureaucracy and former Detective colleagues who still think he is just bad news. His inquisitive and fresh new female partner tries to keep him in line, but appears to have an agenda of her own, and Hardy soon realises that there is nobody who he can truly trust - not his cop friends, not his former cop colleagues, and not even her. When the killer's murders get more and more personal, the pattern being that they were all women who were somehow involved with Hardy, he himself becomes a suspect, and is forced to find the real killer by himself to both clear his name and finally avenge his father.
Striking Distance was originally supposed to be an action-thriller vehicle for Ed Harris, then it was rewritten for Robert DeNiro, before finally being tailored for Bruce Willis' reliable Die Hard-esque action persona, so I can see why Willis got involved with the project. It must have looked - on paper - like quite an interesting story, potentially offering him a more meaty character to what he was previously known for. In fact, the story is far from bad, much of it will sound remarkably familiar for those who know the later Stallone/DeNiro film Copland - an ostracised law enforcement officer, relegated to the kind of menial work that nobody else wants to do, who stumbles across a conspiracy plot involving a corrupt policeman from a family of policemen who apparently commits suicide through jumping off a bridge in front of all his fellow officers, is left to pick up the pieces by himself. Clearly, however, this is a case of a distinct lack of talent across the board. Much like Heat was LA Takedown with a better cast and filmwork, Striking Distance is a ham-fisted attempt at bringing this cop thriller story to life with poor direction, poor cinematography, lame stunts, lacklustre action, a misused and limited budget, terrible scripting, disappointing performances and a poorly chosen cast.
Willis zombie-walks through the movie as if he had a hangover for the entire shoot, making terrible, dated jokes during the opening chase (one of the least tense chases that I have ever seen - and I have seen most of Seagal's recent DTV movies), before making a horrendous attempt at mourning over the loss of his dad, wearing his wig in increasingly bad ways as he gets lambasted by all of his cop colleagues, drinking himself into a bottle (the only thing he does somewhat convincingly) and taking to the waters like a river patrolman desperate to get back to shooting people. After one vaguely engaging boating incident, probably the peak of the entire movie in terms of his action moves, he goes back to sleep for the rest of the affair, waking up briefly to bed Sarah Jessica Parker before he finally has to confront the bad guys. Willis will probably never top the timing and quality of The Last Boy Scout, even though his Die Hard movies are all time classics, and his performance in Striking Distance is lacklustre and inferior in comparison to what we are used to from him.
There are quite a few other familiar faces on board to round out the cast - but unfortunately they all put in similarly lame performances. A young Tom Sizemore just loses his temper a lot (which can't be too much of a stretch for him), Dennis Farina (great in Out of Sight and Get Shorty) is unconvincing as the cop father whose son commits suicide in shame, reliable villain Brion James (Tango & Cash) wanders around in the background somewhere, scowling, and Homicide's Andre Braugher brings us some clichéd courtroom antics. Perhaps the only performance worth noting is that from Robert Pastorelli - the psychotic cop accused of corruption - who hams it up to the max. Unfortunately he went on to bastardise Robbie Coltrane's seminal Cracker for US audiences afterwards. And I've never particularly liked Sarah Jessica Parker (probably because I've never felt the need to follow Sex and the City) but she certainly was a pretty hot chica back in her mid-twenties. Unfortunately she breathes no life into another one-dimensional character.
All we needed for a good movie here was probably some good one-liners from Willis, some decent shootouts, and maybe a couple of thrilling action set-pieces, but we actually get none of those, making this really a fairly pointless movie all round - and I've found a point in watching even the most pointless of movies. A connoisseur of all things Seagal, a fan of Van Damme, Willis, Stallone and all their 80s ilk (as well as, of course, decent movies), I have become somewhat used to finding some guilty pleasure in watching even the most trite, banal but often unintentionally amusing offering. Unfortunately Striking Distance has nothing good to offer and, worse still, didn't even make it into that genre of 'so bad that it's actually funny' films where the likes of Showgirls and Battlefield Earth reside.
I should have probably realised how bad it was going to be when the opening credits rolled and a remote controlled car was being driven around in a menacing way (the only other film I can think of to use a remote controlled car as a supposed threat was the fifth and worst Clint Eastwood/Dirty Harry instalment, The Dead Pool, where it was similarly ludicrous - but at least that film makes the 'so bad it's funny' category) but Striking Distance really does set new standards in terms of wasted viewing time. I cannot possibly stress strong enough how much you should stay away from this movie - there is absolutely no good reason for anybody to have to endure this, so keep clear. Trust me, sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one, and I watched this diabolical affair just so nobody else would have to. I even had to watch Die Hard 3 immediately afterwards just to make myself feel clean again. Please steer clear.
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