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.

 

A Movie A Day #304: Code of Silence (1985, directed by Andrew Davis)


It’s life and death in the Windy City.  It’s got Chuck Norris, Henry Silva, Dens Farina, and a robot, too.  It’s Code of Silence.

Chuck plays Eddie Cusack, a tough Chicago policeman who is abandoned by his fellow officers when he refuses to cover for an alcoholic cop who accidentally gunned down a Hispanic teenager and then tried to place a gun on the body.  This the worst time for Cusack to have no backup because a full-scale gang war has just broken out between the Mafia and the Comachos, a Mexican drug gang led by Luis Comacho (Henry Silva).  When a cowardly mobster goes into hiding, Luis targets his daughter, Diana (Molly Hagan).  Determined to end the drug war and protect Diana, Eddie discovers that he may not be able to rely on his brothers in blue but he can always borrow a crime-fighting robot named PROWLER.

Despite the presence of a crime-fighting robot, Code of Silence is a tough, gritty, and realistic crime story.  Though Chuck only gets to show off his martial arts skills in two scenes (and one of those scenes is just Eddie working out in the gym), Code of Silence is still Norris’s best film and his best performance.  The film draws some interesting comparisons between the police’s code of silence and the Mafia’s omerta and director Andrew Davis shows the same flair for action that he showed in The Fugitive and Above the LawCode of Silence‘s highlight is a fight between Chuck and an assassin that takes place on top of a moving train.  Norris did his own stunts so that really is him trying not to fall off that train.

Davis surrounds Norris with familiar Chicago character actors, all of whom contribute to Code of Silence‘s authenticity and make even the smallest roles memorable.  (Keep an eye out for the great John Mahoney, playing the salesman who first introduces the PROWLER.)  Norris’s partner is played by Dennis Farina, who actually was a Chicago cop at the time of filming.  After Code of Silence, Farina quit the force to pursue acting full time and had a busy career as a character actor, playing cops and mobsters in everything from Manhunter to Get Shorty.  As always, Henry Silva is a great villain but the movie is stolen by Molly Hagan, who is feisty and sympathetic as Diana.  To the film’s credit, it doesn’t try to force Eddie and Diana into any sort of contrived romance.

Unfortunately, none of Chuck Norris’s other films never came close to matching the quality of this one.  Code of Silence is a hint of what could have been.

A Movie A Day #198: Men of Respect (1990, directed by William Reilly)


That Bill Shakespeare really gets around.

Men of Respect comes to us disguised as a gangster movie but it is actually a modern-day version of MacBeth.  Mike Battaglia (John Turturro) is one of Charlie D’Amico’s (Rod Steiger) top lieutenants but he is upset because D’Amico has announced that his successor will be Bankie Como (Dennis Farina).  When Mike stumbles across a fortune teller, he is told that not only will he soon be in charge of the D’Amico crime family but that he will hold the position until the stars fall from the sky and that he will never be harmed by a “man of woman born.”  At the instigation of his ambitious wife, Ruthie Battaglia (played by Turturro’s real-life wife, Katherine Borowitz), Mike murders Charlie, Bankie, and everyone else who is standing in his way.  Even as D’Amico’s son (Stanley Tucci) starts to recruit soldiers for an all out war, Mike remains confident.  Even when one of this soldiers sees a fireworks show and says, “Jeez, it looks like stars from falling from the sky,” Mike remains cocky.  When his wife starts to complain that she can not get the blood stains (“the spot”) out of the linen, Mike is not concerned.  Why not?  “All these guys were born of a woman,” Mike says, “they can’t do shit to me.”

Turning MacBeth (or any of Shakespeare’s tragedies) into a Mafia film is not a bad idea but Men of Respect‘s attempt to translate Shakespeare’s language to 20th century gangster talk leads to some memorably awkward line readings from an otherwise talented cast.  By the time Matt Duffy (Peter Boyle) announced, in his Noo Yawk accent, that he was delivered via caesarean section, I could not stop laughing.  Even the scenes of gangland mayhem feel like second-rate Scorsese.  The idea behind the film is intriguing and there are a lot of recognizable faces in the cast but Men of Respect gets bogged down as both a Shakespearean adaptation and a gangster film.

Horror on TV: Tales From The Crypt 4.13 “Werewolf Concerto” (dir by Steve Perry)


For tonight’s excursion into televised horror, we present to you the 13th episode of the 4th season of HBO’s Tales From The Crypt!

Werewolf Concerto originally aired on September 9th, 1992.  It deals with what happens when a group of hotel guests believe that there might be a werewolf in the area.  Fortunately, Timothy Dalton is also in the area and he claims to be a professional werewolf hunter!

Or is he….?

You’ll have to watch to find out!

Enjoy!

Guilty Pleasure No. 8: Paparazzi


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I once got into an argument with a friend of mine about whether or not a film could actually be so bad that it was good.

His argument was that bad, by its very definition, was the opposite of good and therefore, nothing bad could be good and vice versa.

My argument was Paparazzi.

First released back in 2004, Paparazzi tells the story of Bo Laramie (Cole Hauser).  Bo is an up-and-coming super star.  As the film begins, we’re told — by a breathless correspondent from E! News — that Bo has arrived.  He’s starring in what promises to be “the world’s biggest action franchise.”  Bo has a wife (Robin Tunney), a son, and a beautiful house on the beach.  Whenever he goes jogging, huge groups of women magically materialize so that they can giggle as he runs by.

However, not everything is perfect in the world of Bo Laramie.  Like far too many defenseless celebrities, he’s being harassed by the paparazzi.  At first, Bo attempts to be polite.  However, a demonic photographer named Rex (Tom Sizemore) refuses to stop trying to take pictures of Bo at his son’s soccer game.  Things escalate until eventually, Bo’s son is in a coma and Bo is coming up with ludicrously elaborate ways to kill all of Rex’s colleagues.

The thing that distinguishes Paparazzi is not that it’s a revenge film.  What distinguishes Paparazzi is that it seems to seriously be arguing that celebrities have the right to kill people who annoy them.  Rex and his colleagues are portrayed as being pure evil (one even laughs maniacally after snapping a picture) while Bo is the victim who has to deal with the issues that come from being a multimillionaire.  Even the homicide detective played by Dennis Farina seems to be continually on the verge of saying, “Right on!” while looking over the results of Bo’s handiwork.

It’s so ludicrous and stupid and over-the-top that it can’t help but also be a lot of fun.

Don’t get me wrong.  Paparazzi is a terrible film.  In fact, it’s so terrible that, if a group of aliens ever somehow saw Paparazzi, they would probably hop in their spaceship and come to Earth specifically to wipe out the human race.  However, as bad as the film is, it’s also one of those films that you simply cannot look away from.  Watching this film is like witnessing a tornado of pure mediocrity coming straight at you.  You know that you should just stop watching and get to safety but it’s such an unexpectedly odd sight that you can’t look away.  Once you’ve seen it, you’ll never forget it and it becomes impossible not to become fascinated by the fact that such a terrible film could actually exist.

Consider the following:

1) When he’s not busy killing photographers, Bo Laramie is filming a movie called Adrenaline Force 2.  Seriously, that title is so generic that I couldn’t help but smile every time it was mentioned.  Can you imagine anyone saying, “I want to see that new movie, what’s it called, uhmm… Adrenaline Force 2?”

2) Speaking of generic, do you think that anyone named Bo Laramie could ever possibly become the biggest film star in the world?

3) In the role of Bo Laramie, Cole Hauser seems like he’s as confused by this movie as everyone else.  However, towards the end of the film, he starts to flash a psychotic little grin and the contrast between that grin and Laramie’s previously stoic facade is oddly charming.

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4) You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Tom Sizemore play the world’s sleaziest photographer.

5) Vince Vaughn has a cameo as himself!  He’s co-starring in Adrenaline Force 2.

6) Mel Gibson has a cameo as himself!  He’s seen sitting in a psychologist’s office.  (No, seriously…)

7) Matthew McConaughey has a cameo as himself!  He shows up out-of-nowhere, tells Bo that it’s a pleasure to meet him, and then goes, “Alright, alright…”

8) Chris Rock has a cameo as a …. pizza deliveryman!  At first, I assumed that Chris Rock was playing himself and I kept waiting for him to explain why he was delivering a pizza to Bo Laramie’s house.  However, according to the end credits, Vaughn, McConaughey, and Gibson were playing themselves while Rock was playing the role of “Pizza Guy.”

9) Plotwise, this film invites the viewer to play a game of, “What if everyone in this film wasn’t a total and complete idiot?”  For all the effort that Bo puts into plotting his revenge, it’s hard not to feel that he just got extremely lucky.

10) The film manages to be both silly and completely humorless at the same time.  As a result, it’s a good for more than a few laughs.

11) There’s a scene where, out of nowhere, Bo recites an inner monologue about the price of fame that will remind observant viewers of Tony Bennett’s classic narration from The Oscar.

12) At one point, Tom Sizemore says, “I am going to destroy your life and eat your soul. And I can’t wait to do it.”

13) The film’s director used to be Mel Gibson’s hairdresser.

14) Finally, the film was produced by Mel Gibson and that probably means that the film actually is making a sincere case for murdering members of the paparazzi.

If ever a film has deserved the description of being so bad that it’s good, it is Paparazzi.  Between the sense of entitlement, the feverish fantasies of revenge, and the out-of-nowhere celebrity cameos, Paparazzi is a film that has earned the title of guilty pleasure.

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