16 Blocks

Movie Information

Genre: Action Thriller
Director: Richard Donner
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mos Def, David Morse, Jenna Stern, Casey Sandler
Rated: PG-13

A tired-looking Bruce Willis plods his way through this tired-looking rag-bag of cliches churned out by the apparently also-tired director Richard Donner from a screenplay by Richard Wenk (Vamp), who probably isn’t tired because he hasn’t had a screenplay produced in seven years (it’s easy to see why).

Donner’s reputation rests uneasily on having made The Omen, the 1978 Superman and the Lethal Weapon movies. Willis’ reputation mostly rests on his value as an action hero (with occasional time-outs for supposedly more artistic fare for Terry Gilliam, Richard Rush and M. Night Shyamalan). Undoubtedly, someone thought that teaming the director of the Lethal Weapon series and the star of the Die Hard franchise would produce fireworks. What they — the 19 (count ’em) credited producers (including Willis), co-producers, executive producers and associate producers — got was more like a damp squib.

The attempt at goosing the proceedings by adding Mos Def to the cast is sabotaged by the script (especially when it goes all hot, soft and woolly) and by whoever decided that Def’s character should be played as if he were Chris Tucker sucking on a helium balloon. This is 30-year-old TV-movie stuff. All it lacks are the appropriate fade-outs every 15 minutes for the placement of commercials.

Willis plays Jack Mosley, a burnt-out, cynical, terminally depressed, alcoholic cop (no one but the receptionist at the precinct seems to notice his drinking problem) who lands the job of transporting a petty criminal, Eddie Bunker (Def), to testify at a hearing that will bring down some dirty cops. That little trip marks the 16 blocks of the title. Naturally, the dirty cops, who include (wouldn’t you know?) Mosley’s old partner, Frank Nugent (David Morse, Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story), are determined that Bunker shouldn’t survive the journey. Thus they try to off the annoyingly talkative witness when Mosely stops for a pick-me-up en route.

But, of course, there’s some decency left in Mosely, who decides to risk life, limb and his buzz in order to do the right thing and get Bunker to court in testifiable condition. The regenerative power of doing the right thing is truly amazing, since Mosley soon forgets about needing a drink, being winded after 10 steps and generally having trouble moving. What happens is distressing in its predictability and just plain jaw-dropping in its saccharine-coated ending.

If you’re a so to speak die-hard Bruce Willis fan, you’ll see it, but it’s likely to be a grim trek for anyone else navigating these 16 blocks. Rated PG-13 for violence, intense sequences of action and some strong language.

— reviewed by Ken Hanke

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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