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16 Blocks (9/10)

by Tony Medley

This is yet another in a plethora of films about corrupt policemen. In this, alcoholic, depressed NYPD detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is assigned the simple task of taking a petty criminal, Eddie Bunker (the rapper Mos Def) from the lock-up to the courthouse, 16 blocks away, to testify before a grand jury. Jack picks him up at 8:02 and the Grand Jury convenes at 10:00. Almost before he knows it, they are both in a maelstrom, and Jack finds himself in a potentially life-redeeming situation.

From an idea and script by Richard Wenk, director Richard Donner has produced a tense, action-packed, uptempo film that is highly entertaining. With another outstanding performance by Willis, the only thing that marred it for me was the whining accent adopted by Def. It becomes a constant irritant as the film progresses.

Also adding to the fun is a terrific bad guy performance by David Morse, who plays Jack’s former 20-year partner, Frank Nugent, who is trying to kill Eddie to keep him from testifying. Frank is joined in his goal by lots of other policemen, including a captain. Basically, Jack and Eddie find themselves fighting the entire NYPD to get through those 16 blocks to the Grand Jury.

Six years before, Jack and Frank were working with a group of cops who crossed forbidden lines to bring down bad guys. Says Donner, “There’s a line that everybody has, and when it’s crossed, something happens in your life that changes it radically.” Frank is fighting for his life. If Eddie testifies, his career is over and hard time in jail is in his future. Jack is placed in the position of defending Eddie, whose testimony will also put him in jail.

This is a high-tempo, grandly entertaining chase film with good character development by Willis. Some chase films, like “the Bourne Supremacy” (2004) rely solely on action and superb direction for their success, which is why Matt Damon’s presence in that film didn’t detract. There was not much acting required. But here Donner and Wenk are making a character study as much as they are making a chase film. Jack is a psychological mess. He’s given up. Suddenly he is in a position to redeem himself, but, in so doing, he has to sacrifice himself. Willis gives an award-deserving performance, as does bad guy Morse.

March 5, 2006