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Striking Distance and The Snowman: The Unfinished Monomyth

There’s a certain type of movie that we really like to make. And despite all this practice, we very rarely get it right. You know the one.

A noble truth seeker. Met with personal tragedy. Brought down by inner demons and addiction. Only to overcome it all and finally rid the world of an evil only they can truly understand. Usually there is saxophone music and a car chase.

I’d like to begin this look back at 1993 Bruce Willis thriller Striking Distance with an excerpt from Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. I do this because, well, I’m a bit of a jerk.

Campbell writes, “There is no final system for the interpretation of myths, and there never will be any such thing. Mythology is like the god Proteus, ‘the ancient one of the sea, whose speech is sooth.’ The god ‘will make assay, and take all manner of shapes of things that creep upon the earth, of water likewise, and of fierce fire burning.’”

Much like the constantly morphing Greek god Proteus, there is a certain unknowable strain of films to which Striking Distance belongs. They are familiar in that they all stem from the same monomyth of the American detective thriller. But through whatever production problems or simple mistakes, these movies remain indecipherable.

Anyone familiar with the 2017 thriller The Snowman will recognize the issues with Striking Distance. For those unfamiliar, The Snowman follows alcoholic detective Harry Hole (yep) as he tracks down a serial killer who leaves behind clues and little snowmen to mock the authorities who are always one step behind.

The movie is notable in that it received a wide release despite major chunks of the story never being filmed–an estimated 20 percent. This meant that the editor was forced to cobble together what available shots they did have to tell something of a coherent story. It’s interesting to examine from a filmmaking perspective, but don’t expect to actually understand what the hell is happening.

Sidenote: While Striking Distance does not have a character with a name as good as Harry Hole, an actor named Timothy Butts has an uncredited role as “Huck Tuckerman,” which sounds like a joke.

Whereas The Snowman suffered from a lack of footage to tell its story, Striking Distance apparently had the opposite problem. Early test audiences found the movie too confusing and the plot overstuffed. Reports from the set claim that Willis demanded these extraneous plot points be added to director Rowdy Herrington and Marty Kaplan’s original script. These were dropped and reshoots were ordered, but watching the movie you can just feel that large pieces of the film are missing.

Striking Distance tells the story of alcoholic homicide detective Tom Hardy (not that one) as he tracks a serial killer who calls police to broadcast the song “Little Red Riding Hood” by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs as he kills.

Interestingly, Hardy is a pariah among his fellow officers after he testifies in a police brutality case against his partner, played by Murphy Brown’s house painter, Robert Pastorelli. Also, Hardy’s police chief father is briefly played by Frasier’s dad, John Mahoney.

Forget any hopes you might have that this serves as a sort of prequel to the Cheers spinoff and Mahoney will retire from the force and move in with his snobbish son in Seattle. Mahoney’s character is killed off early in the film, which feels like a missed opportunity. Mahoney really does a lot with what little screen time he has.

The film features a two-year time jump after we see Hardy’s partner throw himself off a bridge rather than face a prison sentence for assaulting a suspect. Hardy now lives on a houseboat, somehow the least glamorous type of boat, right behind pontoon. He is an alcoholic who has been demoted to river patrol. He walks around in shorts and a knee brace like he’s Stone Cold Steve Austin.

Another bright spot in the film is the appearance of Sarah Jessica Parker as Hardy’s new partner on the river patrol squad. Like Mahoney, Parker does a good job with a bit of a cliched role. I mean, it’s not Hocus Pocus good, but it’s good. Wow, 1993 was a big year for her.

In Striking Distance, Parker’s the by-the-book foil to Hardy’s renegade cop. Of course, they fall in love and she cures his alcoholism. Apparently addiction is just some sort of sex curse, like Angel’s soul in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Remember ’90s cinematic love interests, no man is an island, but every man is a project.

Another less fun trope is we get a couple scenes of female characters we don’t know being abducted in parking lots. This was the peak period in cinema for women being abducted in parking lots.

While Striking Distance is pieced together of well-worn characteristics of the genre, like The Snowman it is somehow unknowable. Your brain is left to fill in the gaps of the story that the film either failed to include or excised completely in hopes of keeping the project alive. The movies serve as a sort of mental exercise for those interested in seeing the nuts and bolts of filmmaking and what happens when parts go missing.

With that in mind, let’s return to the second half of that excerpt from Campbell’s Hero with a Thousand Faces: “The life-voyager wishing to be taught by Proteus must ‘grasp him steadfastly and press him yet the more,’ and at length he will appear in his proper shape. But this wily god never discloses even to the skillful questioner the whole content of his wisdom.”

Striking Distance

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Written By

Dustin Waters is a writer from Macon, Ga, currently living in D.C. After years as a beat reporter in the Lowcountry, he now focuses his time on historical oddities, trashy movies, and the merits of professional wrestling.

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