Homicide detective Mike Donato (Charles Bronson) arrives at a murder scene where the victim is a nun, the latest of several holy sisters targeted by a serial killer. It is not long before Donato clashes with his superior, who also happens to be his daughter Lt. Dena Donato (Dana Delany). The pair have not spoken since the mysterious death of Donato's son, Tommy, but end up reluctantly paired in pursuit of prime suspect Russ Loring (Xander Berkeley), a businessman and closet psychopath who develops an unhealthy obsession with Dena.
The search for a fresh twist on the well-worn buddy-cop sub-genre led to some strange pairings: cop and canine (e.g. K-9 (1989), Turner & Hooch (1989)), cop and gay cop (Partners (1982)), cop and kid (Cop and a Half (1993)) and in the case of Donato and Daughter, well, the clue is in the title though it was also distributed under the alternative titles: Dead to Rights, Under Threat and Relative Danger (see what they did there?) In fact the concept marks this as something of a precursor to Bronson's later, execrable Family of Cops (1995) which spawned two sequels. At the time Donato and Daughter was in production Bronson was in the midst of a minor renaissance in his career following his acclaimed turn in Sean Penn's drama The Indian Runner (1991). He brings a similar level of commitment and gravitas to his role here and is well paired with a gutsy and appealing Dana Delany. Whereas Bronson's Eighties action roles did not require him to do much more than grimace and pump bad guys full of lead, here he gets to play concerned, outraged, vulnerable, even indulge the odd self-deprecating joke in a comparatively faceted role.
Alas, the story still does not add up to much. Its the old familiar hook about the father that still sees his daughter as a little girl while Dena is so intent on proving she is a grown up she does not heed his advice. Much of the friction between father and daughter arises from the ambiguity surrounding Tommy's death. When the big tearful reveal finally comes it is standard soap opera stuff although Donato's long-suffering wife (Bonnie Bartlett), whose abrupt departure is never really resolved, injects an intriguing note when she suggests the children's desperate need to earn his approval has destroyed their family. Sandwiched between all this maudlin melodrama is the hackneyed depiction of yet another smarmy yuppie psychopath who enjoys taunting cops and playing obnoxious pranks on Dena and her family including the obligatory dirty phone-calls.
Despite the unsavoury premise of a killer that rapes and murders nuns, this made-for-TV movie goes out of its way to avoid anything overtly sordid or gratuitous. In fact much of the violence is severely truncated in the prints screened on television these days, robbing this overly talky cop drama off its few visceral thrills. If you are a fan of Bronson and Delany's acting skills then there are a few quirky scenes to savour including a great confrontation between the former and the killer's mother (Julianna McCarthy) and a funny scene where Dena struggles to keep a straight face when her dad's tough cop act fails to rattle a dimwitted suspect. The suspense kicks up a notch in the third act while Rod Holcomb's direction remains taut and pacy throughout and brings a level of credibility lacking in Bronson's fan-favoured Eighties output. Aliens (1986) favourite Jenette Goldstein appears in a small role and keep a look out for the actress who plays Loring's wife. She is Kim Weeks who went on to be the third Mrs. Bronson.