16 Blocks (2006) / Action-Thriller
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence and some strong language
Running Time: 105 min.
Cast: Bruce WIllis, Mos Def, David Morse, Casey Sander, Jenna Stern, Cylk Cozart
Director: Richard Donner
Screenplay: Richard Wenk
16 Blocks is a passable time waster thriller, reminiscent in its plot to the Eastwood flick, The Gauntlet, although darker in execution. Director Richard Donner (Timeline) , who made some of the better cop action flicks of the 80s and 90s with the Lethal Weapon series, returns, but with decidedly mixed results. While the gritty subject matter and intense action do deliver the goods for those looking for that kind of material, Donner's film gets off to a good start, only to lose momentum as the implausibility factor begins escalating, followed by a final twenty minutes of just straight-up bad filmmaking.
Bruce WIllis (Lucky Number Slevin, Sin City) stars as Jack Mosley, a burnt-out, alcoholic New York cop, content to ride out his remaining days until pension doing idle work and pencil pushing chores. He begrudgingly accepts an assignment to transport Eddie Bunker (Mos Def, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), a key witness in a police corruption case, to the courthouse about 16 blocks away, and with two hours to do it in, it should be a cakewalk. It is until people start shooting at them, calling a rusty Jack into action yet again. It seems a group of cops are behind the murderous actions, forcing Jack to choose between the continued existence of doing his duty, or seeing his fellow officers go down.
16 Blocks is built on an interesting premise, and for a good part of the way, it does succeed in reaching some modest entertainment goals to almost prove itself worthwhile. Willis gives a nice low-key performance here, exuding little of the charismatic quips or macho bravado we're used to seeing from him in action vehicles. His counterpart, Mos Def, doesn't really fare as well. I do like Mos Def in most things, but here, he still comes across as too smart to play the dumb knucklehead Eddie, emoting a nasal-pitched delivery all-too-reminiscent of Damon Wayans' "In Living Color" character, Homey D. Clown. Also sharing a good deal of screen time is underrated character actor David Morse (Double Vision, The Green Mile), as the lead corrupt cop on their trail, treading the fine line between well-meaning servitude to his fellow officers and out-and-out malevolence.
In order to generate tension, a time limit angle is concocted, whereby the cops in question will go free if Eddie doesn't make it to the courthouse exactly on time. Credibility is further stretched as it appears that the cops are willing to commit no shortage of heinous acts in broad daylight with many witnesses just to take down one man with a shady track record that may or may not be able to give damning evidence against cops that are willing to stick together. There's quite a bit made of Jack's possible wrangling with his conscience to do the right thing, but the way it is presented, it never really seems to ever be called into question, as we know he'll always do the right thing. Perhaps casting someone that doesn't have such a history of playing antiheroes might have helped the ambiguity.
16 Blocks, just like those in the movie, might seem like a slam-dunk, but wrong turns lead this potentially nifty thriller too far astray to make it to its destination in good order.
©2006 Vince Leo