|16 Blocks (2006)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mos Def, David Morse
Director: Richard Donner
Crime thrillers are a dime a dozen these days, which is why you’d be hard pressed to find a studio willing to sacrifice an important weekend slot for anything that doesn’t promise a big box office draw. This is where the early months of the year usually come into play, designed as a dumping ground for all of the genre-heavy films with low expectations. A majority of these films do what they’re told, and as a result, offer little more entertainment value than expected, but every so often, a seemingly average film manages to break out of the pack. One of last year’s biggest surprises was the Bruce Willis thriller “Hostage,” so it’s hard not to believe that the veteran actor wouldn’t be able to do it again, this time in the Richard Donner-directed “16 Blocks.”
The film stars Willis as Detective Jack Mosely, a worn-out cop with a bum leg, a drinking problem, and a tendency to sleepwalk through his daily routine. Jack’s having another bad day, and all he wants is to go home and pass out, but when he’s asked to transport Eddie Bunker (Mos Def), a petty criminal scheduled to testify in trial, to the downtown courtroom by 10 a.m., his day becomes that much worse. Just how much worse, he has no idea. After an attempted hit on Eddie while waiting in traffic, Jack calls on his partner Frank Nugent (David Morse) for help. Frank, however, is in cahoots with a group of dirty cops determined to prevent Eddie from testifying against them, and with less than 90 minutes to spare before the jury closes the case, Jack has to get his witness 16 blocks to court before they catch him.
Getting to their destination on foot for most of the film is the only real question of authenticity in the script. Why doesn’t Jack commandeer a vehicle, like we see in every other cop movie? And why don’t they put on disguises? There’s got to be a wig shop somewhere around town; it is New York, after all. With the exception of that small detail, Richard Wenk’s script is pretty impressive, mostly because he’s managed to take a common film thread and spin it into a story that feels fresh. The pitch perfect casting of Willis and Mos Def is the film’s biggest strength, though, with the former playing a tired, aging version of John McClane, and Def as the charming con with dreams of opening a bakery. The former rapper has continued to grow as an actor over the past five years, but this is by far his most courageous performance to date. His choice to apply an unorthodox vocalization to the character is one that could have been too overwhelming for audiences, but it works in a way that’s impossible to describe.
If there’s one problem with the film, it’s in the pacing of the story. The tempo is just all wrong, and the final product would have been better off clocking in under 90-minutes. Instead, the audience is forced to sit through a script that stretches to incorporate as many standoffs between Jack and the dirty cops as possible. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since it means that we get to see more of Willis and Def’s odd couple relationship, but the success of a thriller is based on the filmmaker’s use of time, and in this instance, Donner goes a little overboard. “16 Blocks” is still one hell of a movie, though it could have been a lot better with some editing around the edges. Perhaps a shorter, director’s cut will be available when it’s released on DVD, but will they have to change the title to something else, like, say, “13 Blocks”?
The single-disc release of "16 Blocks" features only a handful of deleted scenes (with optional director/screenwriter commentary) and a never-before-seen alternate ending. Another half-assed DVD compliments of Warner Brothers. When will they learn?