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Formerly Reviews and Stuff at Rotten Tomatoes, 2005 - 2009.

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Friday, March 3, 2006

Dirty cops must silence witness in '16 Blocks'

16 Blocks (2006)
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mos Def, and David Morse
Director: Richard Donner
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

Broken-down, burned-out NYPD detective Jack Mosely (Willis) is given a simple assignment: Escort a prisoner, Eddie Bunker (Def), sixteen blocks from the police station holding-tank to the courthouse so he testify before a Grand Jury. The prisoner has to be there by 10am, because if he isn't, the Grand Jury is dismissed and the prosecutor's case will fall apart. But even in New York traffic, two hours to cover sixteen blocks should be easy, right? Well, not if the witness's testimony is going to expose police corruption reaching from the streets to highest pinnacle of power within the NYPD.

"16 Blocks" is, basically, a lesser version of the story told in the classic movie "The Gauntlet". Here, like in that film, a cop who is just marking time until retirement manages to summon up whatever spark first inspired him to join the police and do the right thing against ever-increasing odds; a major difference between the Eastwood character in "The Gauntlet" and Mosely is that he is aware that other cops are trying to kill his charge from the outset, and that this is what sparks his desire to overcome in the first place. Another difference is that while the witness in "The Gauntlet" was annoying, Sandra Locke's character at least had some likable qualities to her. There is nothing particularly likable about the character played by Mos Def in "16 Blocks"--not even his oft-stated dream to leave crime behind and become a baker, because it never once rings true--and his nonstop babbling and truly obnoxious voice becomes nerve-grating more than once. Finally, there is a difference in intensity... in "The Gauntlet", here's a sense of ever-increasing danger and pressure. That never occurs here... the film reaches a level a few minutes in and stays there, despite the many shoot-outs and close calls between Mosely and his pursuers.

Bruce Willis gives a great performance as a man who is way past his prime and in over his head; there are several times where his facial expressions say more than any lines of dialogue could. Unfortunately, his co-star, Def, is so annoying that I found myself wishing someone would shoot his character now. Willis also has the problem that he's in a movie that doesn't seem to go anywhere. There's a great build-up to the moment when assassins take a shot at Bunker, and it feels like the film will get even tenser when Mosely realizes that his old partner (Morse) and other detectives that seem to come to his aid are actually part of the plot to silence the witness... but instead the momentum seems to stall. The film coasts through the roughly one-and-three-quarter hours of real-time as Mosely struggles to deliver Bunker to the courthouse alive, eventually coming to a sputtering halt at its ending.

"16 Blocks" had a lot of potential, but it never really lives up to its promise; like its hero, it seems to be coasting, but unlike the hero, it never finds its "spark" or redemption. It is a film that any big time Bruce Willis fan should check out--he is quite good in it. The rest of us are probably better off picking up a copy of "The Gauntlet" if we haven't seen it yet.

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