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Striking Distance: Watch and Learn From the Cops

In the pantheon of guy flicks there are two separate, nearly indistinguishable categories: There are action movies, and then there are cop movies. Both have good guys and bad guys, both have car chases, boat chases, plane chases and inordinately long gunfights where everything gets destroyed except the two main players. There are action movies about cops, like the 1997’s Face/Off, but those aren’t cop movies either. So what makes a cop movie? The answer is a simple adherence to certain axioms and rules you can follow through any exemplar from Fox’s 24 to Martin Scorcese’s Academy Award-winning The Departed to 1993’s Striking Distance, in which Bruce Willis plays a police officer trying to investigate his father’s murder while trolling Pittsburgh’s rivers with his new partner Sarah Jessica Parker. Follow the rules Striking Distance teaches, and you’ll always be able to spot a cop flick–and, if you should find yourself in one, survive it.

RULE #1: NEVER RAT ON ANOTHER COP

Police departments are like fraternities: What happens in the house, stays in the house. So whether another officer is embezzling money or taking bribes or murdering your father, ahem Bruce, I’m talking to you, shut up and keep your head down. Otherwise you end up on pledge duty, which will either involve working a crummy job like River Patrol (a la McNulty in The Wire or Willis’ demotion in Striking Distance) or eating something really disgusting.

RULE #2: FIND THE COP IN OVER THEIR HEAD

There will always be a cop who is not quite cut out for the job. Find that person, because eventually they’re going to get shot or kidnapped. That means the real cops are either going to have to go rescue them (as soon as you see Carrie Bradshaw in a uniform, you know she’s going to be more trouble than she’s worth), or feel really bad about shooting them (Keanu, why would you shoot Jeff Daniels in Speed? Why?). When you find the unseasoned cop, you now have two choices: Avoid them to save your own butt, or keep your eye on them to facilitate an easier rescue.

RULE #3: ALWAYS ALWAYS LISTEN TO THE LOOSE-CANNON COP

How many times is CTU going to write off Jack Bauer only to watch him save the day after screaming into his cell phone, “Trust me, dammit!”? How many times before they actually, GASP, trust him? In every cop movie, the main character will somehow be outcast by the rest of the force, and spend the rest of the film trying to prove he’s the only one who is right, usually just in time to save everyone. Here’s a tip: When Bruce Willis says there’s a bad cop in their midst, there probably is. Don’t agree with him out loud, as per Rule #1, but stick close by. If there’s no Bruce Willis, look for the police officer that’s grizzled, drunk, or perhaps twitching in some odd way. Chances are, he knows what’s really going on and will survive to see the end of the movie.

Striking Distance plays Sunday February 10 at 8 PM | 7C on AMC.

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