Directed by Richard Donner
Move along. There's nothing new to see for the next 16 Blocks. Move along... Move along.
Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis, The Fifth Element) is a depressed, tired, hung-over, pale New York cop with a gimpy leg and a receding hairline. He's the total opposite of John McClane, the hot-to-trot hero Willis played in the Die Hard movies; if anything, Mosley has more in common with Hartigan, the "do-the-right-thing" cop with a bum ticker Willis portrayed in Sin City.
In 16 Blocks, Mosley is given the ho-hum responsibility of escorting Eddie Bunker (Mos Def, The Italian Job) from his jail cell to the courthouse, where he's scheduled to testify against some crooked cops.
Only minutes into this good cop/bad cop retread, Mosley has to stop by the local ma-and-pa liquor store for a reload on twist-cap wine and Advil. What the heck? Mosley's got about 2 hours to accomplish his mission. What's the rush?
If 16 Blocks offers any lesson whatsoever, it's to avoid that twist-cap wine. You see, when you go in and buy twist-cap wine, bad guys come up to your car and try to kidnap your convict-in-tow.
With his car all shot up, Mosley shuffles off with Bunker and they wind up in the next New York landmark, or at least the next landmark in Mosley's New York, a dark and dingy bar. (Note: Most of 16 Blocks was filmed on the mean streets of Toronto.)
Those bad boys with a badge want to extinguish Bunker before he can testify. That fact is made explicitly clear by Frank Nugent (David Morse, Proof of Life), Mosley's beat partner of 20 years.
The not-so-quick witted Mosley manages to bust Bunker loose from Nugent's gang of corrupt cops, but he shoots one of them in the ensuing firefight. Now on the run from the law, Mosley goes to yet another of his New York landmarks. This time it's an apartment belonging to a female in Mosley's life (to say more about their relationship would only spoil one of the film's few entertaining twists).
That's not so bright, when you consider one of the people on your tail was essentially your shadow for 20 years. Yeah. They catch up soon enough.
Throughout all this nonsense, one question pervades the propped-up proceedings: Why don't Mosley and Bunker duck into a taxi and smuggle their way over to the courthouse? Whether you're in New York or Toronto, those funky yellow vehicles with the signage on the roof dot the landscape and, indeed, make cameo appearances in almost every street scene in this movie.
While Bunker and Mosley both seem to suffer from some undiagnosed taxiphobia, they do attempt to take mass transit, including the subway and the bus. After all, why endanger only yourselves when you can take loads of innocent people with you?
Sure, there'd be no movie if they picked up the tab for a taxi. And if Nugent would stop chewing that damn gum, there'd be one less reason to pop the guy a good one to the jaw.
Nonetheless, when thoughts like that dominate your experience of watching a movie, the movie just ain't that good. The saving graces of this otherwise unredeemable bust are the excellent performances from Willis and Def. They're fun to watch. Shame about the material they've been dealt.
People Can Change!
What makes 16 Blocks all the more disappointing is that its director, Richard Donner, knows how to make good, slick entertainment. After masterminding the likes of Superman The Movie and the Lethal Weapon series, a certain sense of bravura can be expected to serve as the underpinning of a Donner movie. Not so here.
16 Blocks is plagued with vanilla action sequences and a screenplay by the undistinguished Richard Wenk (Just the Ticket) that is unacceptably stupid. The movie tries to cover up its empty-headed action with scenes that are clearly designed for character development (no doubt Wenk dusted of his Syd Field books before leaping into this project). Neatly piled up along with the rubbish about extortion, manslaughter, and cover-ups are scenes of idle chitchat between the life-ain't-worth-a-dime Mosley and the psychotically optimistic Bunker that provide the life-affirming hope that people can change. Just look at Barry White's life, for Pete's sake!
Maybe the movie would've been more involving if the entire chase were treated as a mystery. If Bunker and Mosley didn't know up front who was trying to knock them off, there would at least be some degree of tension. Oh well. Maybe they"ll use that idea in the sequel, 32 Blocks (Twice the Tension! Double the Distance!).
• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.