Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is a drinking burnt out police detective who’s about to call it a day when he’s handed the last minute assignment to transport a convict Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to the courthouse sixteen blocks away in an hour and half.
A problem arises when a group of crooked cops led by David Morse set out to kill Bunker who is going to testify against them. Now Mosley has to decide between his loyalty to his fellow officers or to do what’s right and get Bunker to that courthouse.
It’s a good enough setup. But the movie begins to fall apart very quickly with hackneyed chase scenes, illogical decisions, a time constraint that doesn’t work and annoying performances.
Directed by Richard Donner who is a veteran action director and starring Willis who can play this kind of part in his sleep, you would think 16 Blocks would be at the very least an entertaining small actioner. Yet, it’s barely even average.
The time constraint is meant to give the story tension, a literal race-against-the-clock to get Bunker to the courthouse. Yet, the film drags so much with the pair talking and not appearing in much of rush, traversing the sixteen blocks doesn’t take on any real tension. The ticking of the clock falls into the background.
We’re also barely ever given a sense that they’re moving closer or getting further away from their destination. The geography of keeping track of our characters and where they are is very muddled. Each block they manage to get through alive should be a small victory, but they could have been wandering around in circles for all I knew. At times I wish Willis was only given a few minutes to deliver his prisoner in order to speed things up.
Mos Def is meant to be someone we’re rooting for and to like, but his nonstop talking and annoying voice made me dislike him right from his introduction. He doesn’t seem aware or act like cops are wanting to kill him. Willis does his thing, but really doesn’t offer up anything fresh or memorable with this character other than looking schlubby and having a mustache. Any kind of growing connection that is meant to be made between Mos and Willis feels artificial and not believable.
If I didn’t know going in that Donner directed this I would never have guessed a veteran action director was behind the camera. There’s really no flair to any of it and other than a few halfway decent standoffs, some attempted twists and some standard chasing it’s all mainly forgettable.
I noticed he used the old device of making you think a character got shot by someone then revealing oh no it was someone else who got shot by someone completely different! Or the bad guys are about to find the good guys, they open the door the good guys are supposedly behind, we cut to a shot of the door opening revealing the good guys, but oh no it’s someone else opening the door. and the good guys are completely safe and the bad guys were tricked and are opening the wrong door. Each of these are used more than once in the movie.
The clichés and predictability of the story really start to pile up and it’s like no one bothered to try to freshen them up or at least tell them in any kind of exciting way. It becomes at best a very run of the mill forgettable action movie.
This is a movie I could see some hungry young director would get his hands on and create a tight, exciting, intelligent little actioner out of, that ends up surprising audiences and would be the start of making a name for himself with. But as it is it’s an awfully tired forgettable action flick. I watched it last night and already it’s become a blur for me.