The Hard Way is about an naive actor who is auditioning for a cop role. The actor arranges a tag along with a hard-boiled New York police officer which results in the actor learning a few hard lessons. The actor ultimately gets the role he wanted. John Moss (James Woods) is a divorced New York police officer with a very ill-tempered disposition. Moss is often irate, volatile, and foul mouthed. Nick Lang (Michael J. fox) is a spoiled overly pampered Hollywood superstar. Lang is auditioning for his first serious role as a police officer. If he gets the role the world will start taking him more seriously and treat him like an adult. Lang tells his manager, Angie (Penny Marshall), to arrange a “tag along” with a cop he had seen on the news, John Moss. Meanwhile John Moss is on the “Party Crasher” case. The Party Crasher (Stephen Lang) is a vigilante psychopath who shoots people he deems as evil. After a deadly encounter with the Crasher Susan (Annabella Sciorra) and John meet up at police head quarters. Moss is awkward and a bit clueless when Susan suggests they go out in a date. Moss eventually catches on and agrees to meet her at a pizza place later. Moss had been injured in a shooting involving the Crasher and he is taken off the Crasher case. Moss is assigned the job of showing Nick Lang the police officer life. Moss is opposed to the idea at first but is convinced to go along with it. When Lang arrives he is disguised as what he thinks a cop generally looks like. Nick is eager and enthusiastic about the experience. Nick has painted this picture of how he thinks cops are going to be. Nick even did research on the cop life and cop lingo. John quickly gets fed up with Lang and tells the captain so. Captain Brix (Delroy Lindo) is a big fan of Lang's movies. Brix gushes over Nick Lang instead of “setting him straight.”
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Even more irritated Moss takes Lang to check out some information on the Party Crasher case. During a conversation Lang reveals he was under the impression that arrangements had been made for him to stay with Moss. Moss is upset and tells Nick that staying at the Moss household is not going to happen. Lang semi-blackmails Moss telling Moss that he will tell Brix that Moss is still on the Party Crasher case if Moss does not cooperate.
The pair end up at a dilapidated building in the ghetto. Moss takes gun and a baseball bat and tells Lang to stay in the car. While John is inside Lang is taking in the ghetto. Nick frames different parts of the street with his hands as if the street was film set and he was a camera lens. He calls Angie and tells her where he is. He is excited that he is in such a realistic setting but he does not realize that a gang of men in a truck are coming at him from behind. The men steal his phone right out of his hand. He tells them a cop is in the building adjacent and he is going to call the cop for help. Unfazed, the men shoot draw their guns and shoot at the building. Meanwhile, John is inside the building intimidating some information out of a gang of guys called the Dead Romeo's. John eventually gets the name of the guy that made the custom gun that was found at one of the Party Crasher crime scenes. Witherspoon is the gun monger he is looking for. It is revealed that Witherspoon moves around a lot and sells his wares out of a van. Before John can get more information Lang runs into the room and tells John about the gang of guys. Before he can warn John about the guns the building is shot full of holes. John has to report the shooting. Luckily no one was killed.
Out on the street Lang discovers the men stole all of his luggage out of the back of the car. He tells John that he thinks the gang is in a nearby bar and demands John go inside to get the stolen property. John tells Lang that there are police procedures that he has to abide by and does not go inside. Frustrated, Lang goes into the bar alone. Just as Benny (Luis Guzman), John's partner, appears with a fair amount of back up. At that moment Lang is thrown out of the bar window. Benny agrees to cover for John by not reporting Johns involvement in the shooting.
John gets a new car from the impound lot because his car was stripped down while him and Nick were inside the dilapidated building. John takes Lang for lunch and it is revealed that John lives an unhealthy life. He drinks beer, eats fatty foods, and smokes. Lang is John's opposite. John calls Susan (Annabella Sciorra) but her daughter, Bonnie (Christina Ricci), answers the phone. Bonnie hangs up on John. Lang advises him to take Bonnie with him on his date with Susan that night. John scoffs at the idea. Lang copies everything John does for a time which upsets the police officer. John angrily tells Nick he cannot learn how to be a cop by simply watching. Nick would have to live the cop life to understand what it truly is like. Nick is still clueless and naive about the situation. John receives a call about another possible Party Crasher crime. John and Nick go check it out.
At the scene Nick is visibly frazzled. It is likely his first time seeing real dead body. By contrast everyone else is calm and the police go about the business of doing their jobs. Nick suggests the Party Crasher is doing what he is doing for the attention. If it were Nick the only thing he would be afraid of would be getting a bad review. A news anchor asks for John's thoughts on the case and John, thinking it will draw out the Party Crasher, basically gives the Crasher a bad review.
John takes Lang to his home. The cleanliness and order of Moss' home surprises Lang. The apartment does not fit Lang's idea of how an officer lives. Moss has a message on his machine from Susan. Moss is reminded of their date. Nick checks John's place and takes notes while John prepares for his date. On the way out Nick asks to go but John turns him down.
At the pizza place Susan, Bonnie, and John order a pizza. Before the pizza comes Nick shows up and intrudes on Johns date. Nick becomes the life of the party to Johns dismay. Bonnie is more taken with Nick than with John. A group of rowdy bankers comes in and sits next to John's table. John nicely asks the men to calm down but they only antagonize the officer. John starts a fight with the guys. Moss arrests the bankers and tells Lang to escort Susan home. Meanwhile at his apartment the Party Crasher is obsessively watching the tape of John giving him a bad review repeatedly.
Nick and John meet up at a bar later that night. John orders a domestic beer and Nick orders a girly drink. Nick gives John advice on women by pretending he is Susan. John reveals he is afraid to get close to any woman and has been since his divorce. Without making a real break through John leaves the bar.
The next morning Nick finds himself handcuffed to the pull out bed at John's apartment. Nick hilariously tries to get to the bathroom by dragging the whole bed toward in that direction. Before he can get to the toilet Nick answers a call from Susan. She is looking for John but since John is out she asks Nick out for lunch.
Meanwhile John has found Witherspoon. Undercover John convinces Witherspoon to sell him a gun. He does this by using Nick as inspiration. The gun is similar to the gun that the Party Crasher used confirming that Witherspoon has seen the criminal. John gets information about the next time Witherspoon and the Party Crasher are going to meet.
At a restaurant Nick meets Susan. Susan wants to know more about John. Nick uses inspiration from a previous conversation with John to tell her that John is a good cop. He has done and seen things that are hard for normal people to deal with and those things have had an affect on John. She says she wishes John could express himself the way Nick does. She is surprised she would ever date a cop and reveals she has had a lot of men become her boyfriends. Susan wants to get closer to John but his icy demeanor is pushing her away. When the meal ends Nick escorts Susan to a subway. On the subway some young punks start to shake down an old woman. Having previously proclaimed he is a cop Nick is expected to deal with the young punks. He is reluctant but he tries to oblige. Somehow the fight and the following chase end up on in the terminal. Nick's gun is only a prop so it is useless in the fight. The punks have real guns and they shoot at Nick seriously trying to kill him. Eventually back up arrive and John with them. Quickly and fearlessly John arrests the punks. The experience shows Nick that police life is more serious than he had originally thought. He is still just a little naive though.
Out on the street John is upset that Susan and Nick went out. Susan tells him not to be jealous and says that Nick was probably a better cop than him. She kisses Nick on the cheek before leaving. Later that day in the captains office John is warned against putting Nick in harms way. John is to have his eyes on Nick at all times from that point on. John tells the captain about his lead with the gun and suggests they capture the Party Crasher at his next meeting with Witherspoon. The captain agrees but tells John that he is definitely off the case.
That night John takes Nick to check out a call at another dilapidated down building. He gives Nick a gun and tells him to stay in the car. Nick does not listen and follows John inside. John seems to have been incapacitated somehow and yells for Nick to call for backup. The offender, trying to escape, runs at Nick and Nick shoots the man. When Johns shows up it seems that Nick shot the wrong man. The man he shot was an unarmed civilian. John agrees to take the fall because if Nick took the wrap both professionals would lose their careers. The next day John drops Nick at the airport and tells him to forget everything that happened the night before. Nick agrees and is thankful. Before Nick can get on the plane he has an attack of the conscience. Nick decides that he needs to take responsibility for what he did. Back at the station Nick asks China, a detective, where John is. She is rude and does not give Nick a clear response. Nick eventually ends up outside a squad room. The man he thought he had killed the night before is telling the story of how John got Nick out of his hair. John set the whole shooting up. Nick is disheartened and goes for a drive. That night John and his old partner Benny are on a stake out. They are waiting for the Party Crasher to come pick up his gun. The Party Crasher is late but he eventually shows up. The criminal knows that the police are there. The criminal takes Witherspoon hostage and calls John out. He tells John that they are on the same team because he only killed bad guys. The bad guy uses a nearby gas pump to drench the ground in gas. The Crasher shoots Witherspoon and steals his van. Before he completely exits the building the bad guy throws a lighter out of the window.
John and Benny follow. Nick happens to see John and Benny drive by and he follows the two police to a theater that is ironically playing Nick's movie. At the theater the party crasher ends up getting shot. He is taken out of the building on a stretcher. In the lobby Nick confronts Moss. He tells John that his life must be horrible because he doesn't let anyone in. Nick punches John several times before they part ways. The Party Crasher escapes into the back of a police car. Nick just happens to take the sa me police car to leave the theater. The Crasher tells Nick to drive but Nick purposefully crashes the car. Nick radio's the incident in. Before the police show up the Crasher knocks Nick out. The Crasher escapes again.
John is at home watching the story of the heroic actor on television when Susan shows up. She breaks up with John because she cannot take the worry that comes with his job. When she leaves she is seen getting in the elevator with the Party Crasher. Soon after that John is visited by Nick. Nick warns John that the Crasher is coming to get revenge. His theory is based on movies. John does not believe it until he gets a call from the Crasher saying that Susan is “on top of the world with Nick and she does not have wings.” The crasher is referring to an animatronic billboard that was seen being constructed in the beginning of the movie. The pair figure this out and go to save Susan. Immediately a fight breaks out between the Crasher and John. In the commotion of the struggle Susan is thrown out the window but she falls on the cigarette in the animatronic characters mouth. While Nick is saving her John is fighting the Crasher. Somehow the fight is brought to Nick after he gets Susan to safety. To save John Nick attacks Crasher with a blunt object. The Crasher tells Nick that “this ain't a movie” before shooting him in the shoulder/chest area. John then throws the crasher off the billboard. John and Nick talk. Nick is fully disillusioned. He finally got the reality of the cop life that he wanted. The movie ends with the police force watching Nick's movie in a theater. Susan is also there with John. Nick's performance is heartfelt and convincing.
Best part of story, including ending:
I really like the story because it is kind of about growth. Nick grows into a more serious character and John learns to let people into his life instead of keeping everyone at bay.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene happened at John's apartment. One morning John handcuffed Nick to the bed to keep Nick out of his way. Nick goes ballistic trying to get out of the handcuffs.
Opinion about the main character:
I like that Nick eventually grows up. He spent the whole movie being unreasonably naive but he eventually learns what real life is like.