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‘Striking Distance’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 17, 1993

In "Striking Distance," a darkly entertaining adventure, Pittsburgh homicide detective Tom Hardy (Bruce Willis) has a bad first reel. After a thunderous car chase, his father, the chief of homicide, is killed by an escaping serial killer; Hardy himself is knocked unconscious. Then his partner, who also happens to be his cousin, is convicted of police brutality on Hardy's testimony and kills himself. Then Hardy is fired for insisting that the serial killer is not the man charged and convicted, but most likely a cop who remains uncaught.

One reel and two years later, Hardy is working for River Rescue, his cop car replaced by a speedboat, his maverick reputation downsized to "waterdog." This is a big deal, since Hardy comes from a family, and a small circle of friends, generations deep in law enforcement. In fact, the new homicide chief is his uncle (Dennis Farina), but that doesn't help Hardy convince the police that a new string of serial murders is being perpetrated by the same man that killed dear old Dad. Especially after it turns out the new victims are women Hardy once dated.

Into this cloudy day creeps a little sunshine, in the form of Hardy's new partner, Jo (Sarah Jessica Parker). They act copper-ly, stopping speeders and liberating a hijacked tugboat, but it's obvious Hardy is fixated on the serial killer -- though not enough to stay out of the sack. Jo is just about his only friend too: Every time the renegade Hardy comes into contact with cops (notably Brion James as a detective), sparks and fists fly. These guys may be the law, but they tend to disorder.

In a tradition that seems blessedly old-fashioned in terms of police procedure, "Striking Distance" unfolds with a genuine mood of mystery. Adept viewers may not be quite as bamboozled as Hardy and the police as to the identity of the killer, but the push and pull of clue and discovery keeps the film taut, and the scenes played out on the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers are action-packed and curiously believable.

So is Willis, whose wisecracks seem less self-conscious than in recent films. In fact, Willis seems quite happy to serve director Rowdy Herrington, who wrote the script with Martin Kaplan. Willis lends himself to the story, rather than renting himself out, a situation that reestablishes his original sensitive/tough guy appeal. Parker is quite effective too, bringing a no-nonsense strength to her role. "Striking Distance" is a solid adventure with just enough edge and mystery.

"Striking Distance" is rated R and contains scenes of violence.

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