16 Blocks is a film run ragged from simply trying to accomplish too much. Part lean thrilling machine and part overdone drama, the film is probably the longest 105 minutes in recent memory. The usual aberrations creep into the picture as it uncoils from its intriguing setup, and those include complete lapses in logic that I simply can’t give a pass to. When you take yourself this seriously, you don’t get many breaks.
Bruce Willis stars as Jack Mosley, a complete wreck of a cop who boozes far too much and can’t even climb a set of stairs without wiping the sweat off his brow. As he is getting ready to leave the station after working all night, he is approached with a seemingly simple task: pick up Eddie Bunker (uh, Def) from custody and transport him to court, where he is due to testify against a gang of dirty cops. Complications arise quickly, and Mosley and Bunker soon find themselves playing a game of hide and seek from Frank Nugent (Morse) and his band of goons who are bound and determined to plug Bunker before he can travel the sixteen blocks to the courthouse.
Screenwriter Richard Wenk has gone so far out of his way to develop these characters that it actually becomes a distraction. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for character development, but when it hampers what should be a meager, rawboned thriller, I take issue. How many times must we be reminded that Bunker’s biggest aspiration in life is to open his own bakery? And how can Nugent continue to let Mosley and Bunker escape, even when being within arms reach of them? Scenes are literally brought to a grinding halt by these distractions that, when you get right down to it, are contrived and designed only with hope that we are blinded by their humanity as they enter more and more ludicrous situations.
And let’s talk about this Bunker character. Portrayed by Mos Def, he is one of the most annoying characters in awhile – at least since Keira Knightley in Domino. Mumbling incoherently and emerging as a cross between Steve Urkel and Ernest P. Worrell, it’s hard to root for him at all because we feel like duct-taping his mouth shut and leaving him for dead. Bruce Willis can only stand and watch for many of the scenes they have together, and the rest of the time he’s really just doing an elderly John McClane shtick. David Morse is an effective villain and even does some quality channeling of Christopher Walken during the film’s final act.
When all is said and done, 16 Blocks is actually a step in the right direction in a year that has been, at least up to this point, putrid in every sense of the word at the Cineplex. There are certainly scenes that thrill, particularly an early scene that provides the setup, but far too much time is wasted with repetitive character development that never really goes anywhere. It’s nice to see director Richard Donner back in action, but his style yearns for a tight, effective screenplay – something that is not provided here.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 105 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for violence, intense sequences of action, and some strong language.
Theatrical Release: March 3, 2006
Directed by: Richard Donner
Written by: Richard Wenk
Cast: Bruce Willis, Mos Def, David Morse, David Zayas, Cylk Cozart, Tig Fong