16 Blocks / Dustin Rowles
Film Reviews | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()
Probably because my critical faculties had not yet formed in 1987, I’ve always had a guilty fondness for Richard Donner, who had a natural talent for mining Mel Gibson’s loco, even before it rose to the surface in recent years. I can even count the Lethal Weapon series as one of my favorite TBS distractions, which have a tendency to absorb large hunks of my Saturday afternoons, offering a not-so-gentle reminder that I am still in good standing with my masculinity with its “Movies for Guys Who Likes Movies.” And even at his worst (Maverick), Donner is still well worth the ample disposable entertainment value he provides, injecting equal parts light-heartedness and half-boiledness (sic) into his action flicks, which belong somewhere atop the weekend-napping genre along with most of Bruce Willis’ oeuvre. And, because the apex of their careers seemed to intersect, it comes as a surprise that the two haven’t yet worked together, though the Die Hard movies owe as much of their success to Donner’s action breeziness as the Lethal Weapon sequels owe to Die Hard 2 and 3’s overblown, over-ratcheted preposterousness.
Filmed in shades of bad Goodwill suits, 16 Blocks arises out of the ashes of the adult shoot-some-shit genre, borrowing heavily from the buddy-cop ethos of the Lethal Weapon movies and the morally-flawed, John McClane do-gooder archetype, with just a soupçon of Speed-gimmickry for taste. Bruce Willis (sans the smirk) plays Detective Jack Mosley, an over-the-hill, paunch-bellied alcoholic cop who looks a lot like Die Hard’s McClane might look after going through the ringer of four sequels, seven bad marriages, thousands of whiskey flasks, and a really cheap moustache trimmer. Mosley is charged with transporting Eddie Bunker (Mos Def), a witness to a the dealings of a dirty cop, 16 blocks to the courthouse, where he is set to testify against said cop, an event that may very well bring down the entire NYPD. The normally deft Mos plays Bunker here with an unnecessary affectation that sounds like a cross between the Damon Wayans’ homeless character from “In Living Color,” and the vagrant from last season’s “American Idol” auditions who kept exclaiming, “Can You Dig It?!” though even that guy was less grating than Mos Def’s character. Willis has spent his week on the talk-show circuit praising Def’s performance, but it’s hard to see the character for anything other than an African-American version of Joe Pesci’s Lethal Weapon role, though Pesci offered at least a modicum of comedic respite.
At any rate, on the way to the courthouse, Mosley stops off at a liquor store to refill his drink and walks back to his cruiser, where he stops a couple of hit men trying to off Bunker. From there, the plot unspools relatively quickly; we learn that half the NYPD wants Bunker dead, and Mosley’s former partner, Frank Nugent (David Morse) is spearheading the campaign to keep him from making it to the courthouse by 10 a.m., when the case will dissolve and the investigation against the police force will be thrown out (apparently in NYC, grand jury investigations have a very strict timeline). And so, over the course of the rest of the film, screenwriter Richard Wenke assaults us with a lot of cop cliches, runs us through stairwells, subway platforms, and a brief hostage situation, pays unwanted homage to interracial buddy lore, offers some light racist humor, and finally wraps the entire production up with (of course) the hidden tape recorder, which may very well be the most overused plot contrivance in the history of film.
All in all, though, 16 Blocks isn’t a terrible film; what it lacks in originality, it makes up for with the kind of tension middle-aged folks can probably appreciate — relaxingly taut, but well short of the heart-stopping adrenalization that the teenaged demographic seems to prefer. It’s probably not worth the price of admission, but Donner’s latest feature will at least make a welcome addition to the TBS queue, offering an inconsequential diversion during a lazy afternoon’s couch time.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba and managing partner of its parent company, which prefers to remain anonymous for reasons pertaining to public relations. He lives in Ithaca, New York.