March 2- 8, 2006
A '90s cop thriller, a little too late.
The setup could have been spit out by a random Hollywood-pitch generator fed by every screenplay rushed into production after the success of Die Hard. Bruce Willis shaves his temples and wears an unkempt 'stache to play Jack Mosley, his latest variation on the washed-up New York cop. Constantly hungover, Mosley has been reduced to babysitting jobs and is corralled to usher a crucial witness (Mos Def) to a courthouse 16 blocks from where he's being held. Of course, the clock is ticking: The grand jury's term expires in exactly 118 minutes.
An attempt is made on the witness's life, and it turns out the man he's planning to testify against is a crooked cop. A group of officers bound to be implicated in the trial sets out to prevent the pair from reaching their destination, led, naturally, by Mosley's ex-partner (David Morse).
Donner soon enough falls back on his old tricks, indulging in long discussions between hero and villain and questionable comic relief. Mos Def adopts Joe Pesci's old role as the wise-cracking, lovable convict annoying the taciturn cop, adopting a high-pitched Flavor Flav whine. His character is as empty-headed and deferential as any 1940s movie stereotype; that this young black criminal dreams of moving to Seattle and opening a bakery is depicted as simply adorable.
Donner tries for a grittier update on his mismatched-pair formula, steering away from cartoon violence and shooting with a jerky, hand-held camera. But this is also standard now for three-quarters of prime-time TV, an aesthetic enhanced by the most unconvincing Toronto-for-New-York shooting in recent memory. (The film's "Chinatown" seems to consist of a single building housing a basement Chinese laundry.)
Only in a Manhattan this artificial would a busload of hostages fail to attract any media, but 16 Blocks would be nothing without its contrivances. For a plot hinging on its hero's quick wit, there is a dearth of clever twists; the deceptive parallel-editing gag from The Silence of the Lambs is ripped off not once but twice. Bruce Willis must feel a hint of deja vu whenever he walks onto a police station set looking shabby and drunk, but Richard Donner's recycled ideas recall another '90s film, though not one of his own: Groundhog Day.
16 Blocks Directed by Richard Donner. A Warner Bros. release. Opens Friday at area theaters