'Striking Distance': A cop movie with that familiar sinking feeling

MOVIES

September 17, 1993|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Film Critic

"Striking Distance"

Starring Bruce Willis and Sarah Jessica Parker

Directed by Rowdy Harrington

Released by Columbia

Rated R

... **

A river of cliche runs through it.

That's "Striking Distance," the new and very waterlogged Bruce Willis vehicle about Pittsburgh riverine police on the track of a serial killer.

For just a bit, it seems like a delirious sendup of every cop movie you ever saw, a dead-on, point-blank parody of everything from "Dirty Harry" to "Lethal Weapon" and "Naked City." You name the riff, it's there: the haunted, alcoholic cop who lost a wife and a dad and a partner (the dad and the partner were one and the same); the new partner who's a babe; the maniacal cackling serial killer in black gloves; a coverup in high places; the Serpico-esque saint who testifies against a brutal partner and earns the department's contempt; and finally the ineffable melancholy of a man who's handled too many homicides and believes a body is a piece of furniture with a hole in it.

Alas and soon enough, the reality sets in that these people are really serious about this stuff and believe either A.) it still has power even though we've seen it two million times, or B.) we're really stupid.

Amid all the old wrinkles, the movie has one very minor new one: It sees a municipal police force in terms of an extended, multigenerational family in which everyone is either everyone else's cousin or married to everyone else's sister or daughter. It's nice material, playing with notions of cop dynasties and the power of patronage and alliance, when most movies see the police as a kind of cohort of centurians, totally disconnected from the society they service and in whose name they all too frequently die. But the only thing the device provides is a context for a "twist" at the end so obvious only those corpses who've floated in the water more than 48 hours won't see it coming.

The other small new wrinkle is the river police milieu itself: Cops in PT boats and Docksiders, now there's a first. Willis looks more like the kind of guy you see down in Annapolis, trying to pick up girls, than an earnest plodder with a badge humping a beat. Unfortunately, while the scenery is different, the scenes are the same.

Willis is all right. This isn't exactly acting, but he has that bruised Neanderthalic grandeur the camera registers acutely and he relates well with new partner Sarah Jessica Parker, who also brings an earnestness to the role that feels genuine. Unfortunately, the script doesn't provide her with much to do except appear picturesque until she can be kidnapped in the end game. She's really much too good for the movie, but while she's in it she's a delight.

Just about everything else is as standard issue as a Baltimore Police Glock. There are several huge action sequences -- a gigantic car chase and a shootout on a barge -- that turn out to have nothing to do with the plot and, regardless, have little personality or originality. Been there, done that, you're thinking as you stifle a yawn, check your watch and pray for early

deliverance.

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