Striking Distance (1993, directed by Rowdy Herrington)

Thomas Hardy (Bruce Willis) comes from a huge family of Pittsburgh cops.  He used to be a homicide detective but then his father (John Mahoney) was murdered by a serial killer and his cousin (Robert Pastorelli) jumped off a bridge after Hardy turned him in for being crooked.  When Hardy insisted that the serial killer who murdered his father and countless others in Pittsburgh had to be a cop, he was kicked out of homicide and reassigned to the river patrol.

Two years later, Hardy drinks too much and spends his time floating up and down the river.  He’s got a new, younger partner named Emily (Sarah Jessica Parker) but not even Emily can snap him out of his funk.  It’s not until the serial killer starts to strike again — this time specifically targeting people from Hardy’s life — that Hardy starts to care about police work again.

Striking Distance is a good example of a thoroughly mediocre film that bombed at the box office but was given a new lease on life by HBO.  During the 90s, it sometimes seemed as if there wasn’t a day that went by that HBO didn’t air Striking Distance at least once.  I guess it makes sense.  Bruce Willis was a big name and Sarah Jessica Parker did eventually end up starring on one of HBO’s signature hits.  Still, it seems like they could have found a better Bruce Willis film to air.  When critics in the 90s complained that Bruce Willis was an ego-driven star who wasn’t willing to break out of his comfort zone, they weren’t talking about Willis’s appearances in films like Pulp Fiction or 12 Monkeys or even Die Hard.  They were talking about movies like Striking Distance, where Willis smirks his way through the film and spends more time making the camera gets his good side than actually developing a character.

The most interesting thing about Striking Distance is that it manages to be too simple and too complicated at the same time.  There’s no mystery to the identity of the serial killer or why Hardy is being targeted.  There’s also no depth to Hardy and Emily’s relationship.  As soon as they meet, everyone knows where their relationship is going to head.  At the same time, the movie is full of red herrings and unnecessary characters.  Hardy comes from a family of policemen and it seems like we meet every single one of them.  Tom Atkins, Dennis Farina, and Tom Sizemore all show up as different relatives.  They don’t add much to the movie but they’re there.  Andre Braugher, Timothy Busfield, and Brion James also all show up in minor roles, to no great effect beyond providing the film with an “It’s that guy!” moment.

To the film’s credit, it has a few good chase scenes, though the novelty of everyone being in a boat wears off pretty quickly.  Striking Distance is a mess but everyone who had HBO in the 90s sat through it at least once.


An Offer You Can’t Refuse: Race Street (dir by Edwin L. Marin)

The 1948 film noir, Race Street, tells the story of what happens when the mob comes to San Francisco.

Led by the ruthless Phil Dickson (Frank Faylen, who you might recognize as Ernie the Cab Driver from It’s a Wonderful Life), the mob is looking to move in on San Francisco’s bookmaking rackets.  Dickson wants all of the bookies to pay him for protection.  Of course, he knows that he’s going to have a hard time convincing some of them to go along with his plans so he comes up with the brilliant idea of making an example of one bookie.  He sends two of his men to talk to a small-time bookie named Hal Towers (Harry Morgan).  They tell Hal that he can either pay Phil or he can suffer the consequences.  Hal says that he’ll suffer the consequences so they promptly through him down a flight of stairs, killing him.

When Hal’s best friend, nightclub owner Dan Gannin (George Raft), discovers what has happened, he swears that he’s going to get revenge.  Even after Dickson’s men abduct Dan and give him a brutal beating, Dan remains committed to getting justice for Hal.  Lt. Barney Runson (William Bendix), who has been Dan’s best friend since childhood, tries to convince Dan to let the police handle it.  He even tries to get Dan’s sister, Elaine (Gale Robbins) and Dan’s mysterious girlfriend, Robbie (Marilyn Maxwell), to convince him to back off but Dan won’t hear of it.  Of course, because this is a film noir, Robbie has secret of her own….

Race Street is a low-budget noir that only has a running time of 79 minutes but still somehow finds time to sneak in a few musical performances from Gale Robbins.  When the film first started, I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting much.  George Raft seemed bored with his role and William Bendix’s opening narration didn’t fill me with much confidence.  However, it didn’t take long for the film to win me over.  Harry Morgan, for instance, brought a lot of wounded dignity to his relatively small role and his monologue before his murder is surprisingly moving.  Frank Faylen was cast against type as the evil mobster but it worked.  Seeing the normally amiable Faylen threatening to kill people was a good reminder that not all monsters look like monsters.  Some of them look like the friendly Bedford Falls cab driver.  As befits a film noir, the film is full of ominous shadows and sudden bursts of violence.  The scenes where Hal is murdered and Dan is beaten both stand out as being perhaps a bit more brutal than one might expect a film from 1948 to be.

Race Street is a minor noir but aficionados of the genre should enjoy it.  This is a short and no-nonsense film that gets the job done.  It’s an offer you should not refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House

Music Video Of The Day: Tommy Gun by The Clash (1978, directed by Don Letts)

“I was saying us rock ‘n’ rollers are all posers and egomaniacs, but we know that terrorists are as bad, or worse than we are. They definitely love to read their own press… I know they dedicate their life to a cause, but they’re always posing for pictures.”

— Joe Strummer, on Tommy Gun

It’s always hard for me to listen to The Clash without also thinking about the way that Johnny Lydon dismissed them as not being a real punk band.  (Lydon was fond of pointing out that Strummer was a diplomat’s son and that he had previously been in a “pub band” before getting involved with punk scene.)  Johnny may have had a point about The Clash never really being as working class as they claimed to be, though that didn’t stop him from collaborating with members of the band on a few projects after The Clash broke up.  Still, I’ve always liked The Clash’s music.

Tommy Gun was the band’s take on international terrorism.  When it was first released, there was some controversy over whether the band was pro-terrorism or anti-terrorism.  As with many of The Clash’s songs, it could be read both ways.  It was The Clash’s first top twenty hit in the UK, peaking at #19.

This video was one of the first of many to be directed by Don Letts.  Some sources say that this was the first video that Letts shot for the band, though Lett’s video for The Clash’s White Riot was actually released before the video for Tommy Gun.  I don’t know how true that is but I do know that Letts went on to direct several videos for both The Clash and Mick Jones’s Big Audio Dynamite.