Bruce Willis has no less than eight films slated for release in 2006, although that includes the long delayed and much rumored "Die Hard 4," which will probably end up coming out in 2007. Until we do get treated with "Die Hard 4: Die Hardest with a Vengeance," we can settle for "16 Blocks," a mildly entertaining cop thriller from "Lethal Weapon" director Richard Donner.
"16 Blocks" stars Willis as a depressed drunk of a cop who downs more bottles of spirits on the job than writes police reports, who gets randomly selected to escort an annoying, squeaky-voiced loser in the form of Mos Def to a courthouse 16 blocks away. He has two hours to do it, and the task seems simple. Sadly, the drive will be the highlight of his day as he probably looks forward to going home, sitting on the couch in his boxers and wife beater, downing shots right from the bottle and scratching that forever-itchy part next to the left testicle. However, as Willis' character soon finds out, Mos Def isn't wanted for his singing or acting talent as much as he is wanted dead for his looming testimony against some dirty cops. Suddenly, Willis finds himself on the run and with few options against his former friends, who will stop at nothing to get what they want.
Willis, who has played a cop in more movies than Angelina Jolie has exchanged blood vials with various male lovers, is one of those guys that can play the same character over and over again and never let it get old. Even more impressive is that his character here is even more of a loser than most - combine John McClane with John Hartigan ("Sin City") and throw in some extra alcohol for good measure and you get Jack Mosley, who looks like he hasn't taken a shower in days and hasn't been sober for even longer. Still, the great thing about Willis is that he can play a complete slob who hates his life while still being a badass that can kick some major ass when the time comes.
Plenty of people were excited for this movie because Mos Def is in it... I ask, who the hell cares whether Mos Def is in it? Just because he's a popular artist doesn't mean you should give a shit whether he's in a movie. Don't get me wrong - I'd much rather see him in a movie than, say, Fifty Cent, but what's the big deal? Anyway, now that that rant is over, I'll say this: Mos Def (is his last name Def or is Mos Def his first name? Use the name your mother gave you!) is pretty decent here, but his character is annoying as hell. When I first heard his annoying high pitched lisp, I thought it was a joke... But no, we get to listen to his idiotic drawl the entire freaking movie. At times it works, but most of the time you just want to tell him to shut up or slap him silly. And he's not the brightest fish in the sea - when he should be quiet, he's talking. When he should be escaping to the courthouse, he gets back onto the bus with Bruce Willis while a hundred guns are aimed at him.
And this brings us to the most important aspect of the movie - the plot. The premise is simple, and it works. Willis has to get Mos Def 16 blocks to the courthouse, and there are a bunch of corrupt cops in between looking to make sure that doesn't happen. That's cool.
For the first half of the movie, everything works fine. All the complicated stuff is resolved and we're left with a thrill ride for the rest. Willis and Mos Def get chased from building to building while trying to avoid gunfire.
Unfortunately, even though there are plenty of simple routes the movie could take, screenwriter Richard Wenk runs out of ideas at the midway point. Willis ends up on a bus with no tires surrounded by cops, with everyone assuming that he has gone crazy and is going to kill the hostages on board. Suddenly, things aren't that simple and are edging into absurd. He manages to escape the situation - which is unbelievable - and then proceeds to run through another series of rundown buildings. Apparently, the 16 blocks that Willis has to travel involves not a single decent building; the entire movie seems to take place in the same crappy building.
As for the action, the other problem with the film is that it is just so inconsistent. Donner has certainly proven that he can do effective action movies, but "16 Blocks" has some major pacing issues. What this movie should have been was an intense thriller that takes place in real-time; instead, the suspense comes and goes in waves. Donner splits up the action with long sequences of Willis and Mos Def exchanging dialogue, yet neither of them ever formulate an intelligent plan to outsmart the bad guys. The result is a rather repetitive action movie that has an action scene, a dull non-action scene, another action scene, and so on and so forth. Worse yet, the action dies down in the third act; the ending isn't very climactic.
"16 Blocks" is a fun little film that has some moderate excitement and a quality concept. Unfortunately, Donner is unable to bring everything together to make it the consistently solid action film "16 Blocks" could have so easily been. Given what's out at theaters right now, it's probably worth checking out, but a year from now will anyone remember it? I doubt it.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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