The Hard Way (1991)

Film and Plot Synopsis

Nick Lang is a famous, pampered Hollywood actor, well known for his action movies that are box office hits, but lack in artistic credibility. For his next movie, he needs the proper motivation and inspiration for his role as a gritty cop. Lang comes up with the idea to shadow New York policeman Lt. John Moss after he sees the detective on television. Now, the reluctant detective not only has to put up with Nick, who has no idea what it means to be a cop, but he also must catch the coldblooded murderer, the Party Crasher, before he kills again.

‘The Hard Way’ Movie Summary

The summary below contains spoilers.
The Hard Way (1991)New York City is being terrorized by a serial killer known as the Party Crasher (Stephen Lang). The Party Crasher is infamous for calling the police and notifying them that he is about to kill someone before doing so. As the film opens, the police converge on a night club that the Party Crasher has identified as the scene of his next crime. The police are led by Detective Lieutenant John Moss (James Woods) and his partner Detective Benny Pooley (Luis Guzmán). The Party Crasher kills a drug dealer in the club, right in front of Moss. The killer flees from the club and despite his best attempts, Moss is unable to apprehend him.

Meanwhile, in Hollywood, Nick Lang (Michael J. Fox) sees an interview of Moss on television. Lang is a pampered movie star who is world renowned for his role as “Smoking” Joe Gunn. Lang wants to be taken seriously as an actor and wants a coveted role in the heavy cop drama Blood on the Asphalt. Lang believes immersing himself into the world of law enforcement will help him land the role. When he sees Moss on television, Lang believes that he has found his inspiration and reaches out to shadow Moss in New York.

In New York, Moss is informed by Captain Brix (Delroy Lindo) that the Mayor has ordered that Moss allow Lang to shadow him as his new “partner”. To make matters worse, Moss is removed from the Party Crasher investigation so that he can “babysit” the Hollywood actor. Moss disregards his orders and attempts to continue the investigation unbeknownst to his chain of his command. Additionally, he repeatedly tries to ditch Lang who is constantly trying to mimic the detective’s movements and language. Lang constantly asks Moss what it feels like to be a cop, to which the detective has to remind him that it is not a movie.

Meanwhile, Moss attempts to begin a new relationship with Susan (Annabella Sciorra), a divorcee who has a young daughter named Bonnie (Christina Ricci). Moss is having difficulty expressing himself with Susan, who is very interested in the detective, but frustrated by how guarded he is with his feelings. After Lang crashes Moss’ date with Susan and Bonnie, the actor gives some advice to Moss on how to interact with women.

In the investigation, Moss tracks down the maker of the Party Crasher’s specially made handgun. He sets up a sting operation to apprehend the killer using the gun maker as a good between. However, Moss must get rid of Lang to lead the sting operation. One rainy night, Moss takes Lang to a dark building to allegedly catch the Party Crasher. He orchestrates an incident where Lang shoots an innocent man, who is secretly another police detective. Moss promises to cover up Lang’s “crime” and puts the actor on a plane back to Hollywood.

However, Lang feels guilty for Moss taking the fall for him and returns to surrender himself. Once in the precinct, he sees the man he shot in the station and realizes that it was all a ruse to get him to leave. When Lang confronts Moss about the deception, Moss tells him that the panic, self-doubt, guilt, and anger that he felt are all part of the everyday life of a cop.

At the sting operation, the Party Crasher figures out that Moss and the cops are there to arrest him. He kills the gun maker and leads Moss on a car chase
through New York City. The chase leads to a movie theater where Lang’s latest film, Smoking Gunn II, is playing. Lang follows Moss into the theater where the killer and the detective engage in a shoot out in the crowded theater. Moss wounds the Party Crasher in the shoulder. He is arrested and placed in an ambulance but escapes shortly afterwards.

That night, Susan comes to Moss’ apartment and breaks off their relationship. She tells him that she does not want for her or her daughter to have to deal with the uncertainty of being involved with a police officer. She leaves but is abducted by the Party Crasher in the elevator. Lang shows up at Moss’ place just as the detective receives the call from the killer stating that he has kidnapped Susan.

Moss and Lang go to meet the Party Crasher on a giant billboard of Lang’s head advertising his new film. Moss and Lang work together to save Susan from falling to her death on the streets of Times Square. The Party Crasher is about to shoot Moss in the head when Lang saves him. Lang is shot in the chest, but Moss throws the Party Crasher off the billboard where he falls to his death. Moss comforts Lang and gives him an impressive speech about being a cop.

The film then jumps to the same speech being given by Lang in his new film, The Good, The Badge and The Ugly, several months later. Moss attends the premiere with Susan and several other officers. Moss is indignant that Lang’s best lines in the film are all things that he told the actor while they worked together.

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Universal Pictures released The Hard Way on March 8, 1991. John Badham directed the film starring Michael J. Fox, James Woods, and Stephen Lang.

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