16 Blocks

2006-09-01 18:41


It's 8:02 AM and veteran NYPD detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is already having a bad day. He's dog-tired after babysitting a crime scene all night, not to mention hung-over from the bottle of whiskey he drank to keep himself busy. The last thing he wants to do is ferry a petty criminal like Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to the courtroom, but his lieutenant insists. It's only 16 blocks away after all, and he's got nearly two hours before he's due in court. What Jack doesn't realise is that Eddie is about to testify against a whole group of corrupt cops, including his old partner Frank Nugent (David Morse), and that they will do everything in their power to stop him from making it to the courthouse. Now what should have been a 15 minute trip becomes a desperate chase as Jack and Eddie battle their pursuers - and each other - to get to the courtroom in time.


What is it with Bruce Willis and his casting agents lately? The man has barely turned 50 and already they are shoving him into tired old duffer roles. First it was Sin City, where he played a very unconvincing 60 (and 70) year-old Hartigan. Now he grimaces and limps his way through the role of Jack Mosley, an alcoholic veteran with a bum leg. Like the movie itself, we can never shake the feeling that Willis is trying to act like something he is not.

This becomes increasingly clear as we work our way through this dour little film. Despite outward appearances, Mosley is really a re-hash of Willis's most famous character - the indomitable John McClane of the Die Hard series. All of the groaning and grimacing he does are merely veneer on top of his patented action hero persona. Not that this makes his performance any less appealing. Willis has built a career on his own brand of grimy everyman heroics, and they still resonate, even in a film as derivative as this one.

Like Willis's performance, 16 Blocks is a film pretending to play one angle while "secretly" playing another. With its gritty, desaturated look, claustrophobic cinematography and ominous score 16 Blocks is - on the surface anyway - going for the edgy feel of a hard-bitten cop thriller. But the screenplay is really more of slow-moving meditation on morality and loyalty punctuated intermittently by action sequences and with a cuddly redemption story at its centre.

Director Richard Donner has always been attracted to genre films with fuzzy centres. From Superman to Free Willy to the Lethal Weapon series, Donner has proved he is good at these films. So it's no surprise that he has turned what should be a relentless, uncompromising thriller into cuddly buddy movie. And, to be quite honest, we are all the better for it. No one wants to see Bruce Willis lose - it would be like watching someone kick the family dog.

Some audience members may want to kick Mos Def however, as he gives one of the most annoying performances of the year. It's never made entirely clear whether Eddie is slightly mentally handicapped, but Def certainly plays him that way. The really funny thing is, like the movie itself, Eddie actually grows on you. His performance is pure ham, all incessant jabbering and flailing arms, but you can't help but feel affection for the big, dumb galoot.

Another good performance comes from the marvellous David Morse, one of Hollywood's hardest working character actors. He brings an air of palpable menace and moral complexity to the role that elevates the otherwise mediocre material. His scenes with Willis are particularly good, with both actors managing to say far more with expression and posture than they do with the prosaic lines.

Criticism aside, 16 Blocks is an eminently watchable film. The themes may be derivative and the plot predictable, but it's still a well put together mix of thriller and drama. The twists in the script may not be revolutionary (or even particularly plausible), but they are pleasing to the senses. And, say what you like about purity of intention, a happy ending is always more pleasing than a tragedy. It's just a pity that Donner and co. decided to sell the movie as something it is not.

- Alistair Fairweather

Bruce Willis frowns his way through this glum morality play masquerading as a thriller. It would be more entertaining if it didn't take itself so darn seriously.

Maureen Sharpe 2006/07/03 12:01 AM
16 Blocks AGOOD THRILLER TIME PAST QUICKLY SO MUST HAVE ENOYED IT always enjoy a film with a happy ending , YES
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