Striking Distance: The Best Bruce Willis Movie You Never Saw?

We take a deep dive into one of the more obscure action movies on Bruce Willis’s filmography, Striking Distance from 1993.

When was Bruce Willis at the peak of his popularity? It’s hard to say because, truth be told, the man has been a superstar for almost as long as I’ve been alive. When I was in Kindergarten, he was rockin’ the airwaves on Moonlighting and cutting an album, peddling Seagram’s Wine Coolers and starring in hit movies like Blind Date, and this was BEFORE Die Hard. Yet, that 1988 movie took him to another level, with Die Hard 2 and The Last Boy Scout solidifying him as a major, major action star. Yet, one movie almost always overlooked in his filmography is a thriller he did for Sony Pictures that was sandwiched between two against-type turns, one being in Death Becomes Her, the other being in Pulp Fiction. The movie is Striking Distance, and it’s the subject of this month’s The Best Movie You Never Saw!

Here’s the official synopsis: They shouldn’t have put him in the water, if they didn’t want him to make waves. Tom Hardy (Bruce Willis) is a maverick cop who’s not afraid to rock the boat in pursuit of a sadistic serial killer. Demoted to river patrol after suggesting the killer may be a fellow police officer, he initiates an unauthorized investigation which kicks the high-powered plot into overdrive. His new partner (Sarah Jessica Parker) climbs aboard with a surprise of her own as the conspiracy closes around them for a wake-trailing drama about honor, loyalty and family.

Striking Distance is one of the least-known Bruce Willis action movies. During his career heyday, Willis was keen on mixing up the types of films he made. He’s often carved time out for supporting roles in dramas like Nobody’s Fool, Mortal Thoughts, or Billy Bathgate to work with people he admired or to take a chance on directors like Tarantino, Terry Gilliam and M. Night Shyamalan, who each directed him in classics. But, the studios liked him in action thrillers, so he made a few of those too, but curiously, movies like this one, Mercury Rising, The Jackal and a few others tended to be less successful than the ones he stuck his neck out for – go figure.

Yet, as a Bruce Willis fan, I watched all the movies growing up and liked them well enough. Striking Distance was a legit star vehicle for Bruce, although it was a movie that went through a tortured production history as it made its way to the screen, and the seams are pretty visible throughout, even if it’s still a good time.

Striking Distance

In it, Willis plays a Pittsburg cop named Tom Hardy – yes – just like the actor, who’s unpopular on the force because he just testified against his partner, Robert Pastorelli’s Jimmy Detillo – who’s also his cousin – for police brutality. He’s also been on the trail of a serial killer dubbed The Polish Hill Strangler, who he’s convinced is a cop. On their way to the policeman’s ball, Jimmy and his cop father, Vince (played by the great John Mahoney) get a tip and wind up in a car chase with the killer, leaving his dad dead and Jimmy convinced that the suspect they eventually nab is the wrong guy. At the same time, Jimmy commits suicide, alienating him further from the boys in blue, with him losing his detective’s shield and being assigned to the city’s River Rescue Squad. 

Three years later, the Polish Hill Strangler, who’s supposed to have been caught, re-emerges and starts killing women, all of whom are former lovers of Tom’s, leaving him as the prime suspect. So, what’s a guy to do? Clear his name, of course.

The story goes that Striking Distance was initially designed as more of a Jagged Edge-style thriller called Three Rivers, signifying the rivers the bodies of the dead women are being dumped in. Watching the movie, it’s not hard to imagine that Tom’s innocence might have been more in question in original cuts, but somewhere along the way, the studio financing the movie, Sony, who was coming off several flops, had the co-writer/ director, Rowdy Herrington, of Road House fame, reshoot chunks of the film to make it more of an action movie.

If you watch the version that’s out, there are a few dead giveaways about when the re-shooting happened. Throughout most of the movie, Willis sports a receding hairline with a relatively thin crown of hair that looks natural. After shooting the film, he shaved his head to do Pulp Fiction. To match the continuity in reshoots, they gave him a wig, which, I believe, is why his hair looks thicker in many of the action sequences, particularly the showdown with the killer, where his wig falls off during the big kill sequence.

striking distance 1993

In many ways, Sony might have gotten nervous. It was because audiences liked Willis in action roles, and the thriller aspects of the movie were middling at best. Yet, it’s still entertaining. I especially like the cast, which is led by Sarah Jessica Parker, Jimmy’s new partner, who makes eyes at him from the moment they meet. It turns out she’s an IA agent investigating him, which makes her one of the most unprofessional, morally compromised cops of all time, but then again, she and Willis look good together and have a sexy love scene, so it’s okay. The supporting cast is top-shelf, but here’s where it gets sad. Nearly all of them are dead. Dennis Farina plays Willis’s Uncle and adversarial captain. Dead. Tom Sizemore plays one of his cousins – the good one. Dead. Robert Pastorelli plays the other cousin – the bad one. Also dead. Then there’s John Mahoney as his father. He’s dead, too. Even Brion James, as a cop giving Willis a hard time, is long dead, as is a baby-faced Andre Braugher, who has a small role as an IA cop. It’s pretty sad, although director Rowdy Harrington is still with us, with him having written a Michael Douglas movie called Blood Knot.

So, is Striking Distance a Bruce Willis classic? No, but it is fun, with a fantastic car chase at the beginning of the movie, some classic Bruce Willis attitude and a terrific cast that includes a standout performance by Murphy Brown’s Robert Pastorelli as the movie’s way too easy to predict bad guy. With Willis retiring due to medical issues, we’re all pouring over his cinematic legacy and re-evaluating some more obscure titles. This has always been an enjoyable one, and if you love the guy – as we all do here at JoBlo – it’s worth checking out.

About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.