Columbia apparently dragged the river to come up with the script for this Bruce Willis vehicle -- an OK action movie until it sinks under the weight of implausible plotting and over-the-top direction. While the high-testosterone promos may be enough to attract genre fans, it's doubtful this powerboat ride will be able to maintain much box office flow, with better sailing ahead in homevideo.

Columbia apparently dragged the river to come up with the script for this Bruce Willis vehicle — an OK action movie until it sinks under the weight of implausible plotting and over-the-top direction. While the high-testosterone promos may be enough to attract genre fans, it’s doubtful this powerboat ride will be able to maintain much box office flow, with better sailing ahead in homevideo.

Director and co-writer Rowdy Herrington, the guy responsible for all those unintentional laughs in the irresistibly campy “Road House,” nearly tops himself here, directing a high-ticket action yarn that casts Willis as a Pittsburgh cop on the trail of a serial killer. The all-over-the-map plot opens with square-jawed Tom Hardy (Willis) “ratting” on his partner (Robert Pastorelli) in an excessive-use-of-force case, alienating himself from other members of the department.

Still, that’s just the hors d’oeuvre, as Hardy soon loses his chief of detectives dad (John Mahoney), who was pursuing a serial killer, and is subsequently drummed out of the force after insisting that the actual culprit is not the derelict the police apprehended but another cop.

Flash forward two years, and we find Hardy a near-alcoholic working for the city’s River Rescuesquad, until the supposedly incarcerated killer begins striking again — this time exclusively at women with some connection to Hardy.

An outcast because of the trial, Hardy receives scant support from his uncle (Dennis Farina) — another cop in the family’s five-generation line — but discovers a softer shoulder on his comely new partner, Jo (Sarah Jessica Parker).

The convoluted script by Herrington and Martin Kaplan tries to be full of surprises, but mostly they’re either obvious (anyone who can’t guess the killer’s identity must be sucking boat exhaust) or downright ridiculous. Some of the best guffaws stem from Willis’ exchanges with Parker, whose character decides to tell him they shouldn’t become “involved” while the two are lying in bed together.

Herrington does have a flair for action, as the pic begins with a terrific car chase (Hardy and his dad chat casually while darting through traffic), followed by a taut shootout aboard a garbage scow and, ultimately, a dimly lit boat chase reminiscent of “Patriot Games.”

That finale, however, underscores the movie’s problems, milking the “Fatal Attraction,” back-from-the-dead gimmick well beyond its limits, to the point where the urge to giggle buries the suspense.

Willis plays his “Die Hard” riff effectively enough, while the supporting cast is largely wasted, including Mahoney in a brief turn as his dad, Brion James as a one-note detective and Timothy Busfield in what amounts to a cameo as Willis’ obnoxious partner. Parker gets in a few amusing one-liners but, to use an old line, looks a little short (among other things) to be a cop.

Tech credits are generally top-notch, though Brad Fiedel’s score seems to echo his previous work on “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” in more than a few places; then again, it’s hardly the only part of “Striking Distance” that feels recycled.

Striking Distance

Production

A Columbia Pictures release of an Arnon Milchan production. Produced by Milchan, Tony Thomopoulos, Hunt Lowry. Executive producer, Steven Reuther. Co-producer, Carmine Zozzora. Directed by Rowdy Herrington. Screenplay, Herrington, Martin Kaplan.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Mac Ahlberg; editors, Pasquale Buba, Mark Helfrich; music, Brad Fiedel; production design, Gregg Fonseca; art direction, Bruce Miller; set decoration, Jay Hart; costume design, Betsy Cox; sound (Dolby), John Sutton III; associate producer, Kaplan; assistant director, Nicholas C. Mastandrea; second-unit director, Todd Hallowell; special effects, Allen L. Hall; stunt co-ordinator, Mickey Gilbert; casting, Pam Dixon. Reviewed at the Hollywood Pacific Theatre, Hollywood, Sept. 9, 1993. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 101 min.

With

Tom Hardy - Bruce Willis
Jo Christman - Sarah Jessica Parker
Nick Detillo - Dennis Farina
Danny Detillo - Tom Sizemore
Det. Eddie Eiler - Brion James
Jimmy Detillo - Robert Pastorelli
Tony Sacco - Timothy Busfield
Vince Hardy - John Mahoney
Frank Morris - Andre Braugher
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