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.