Director: Richard Donner
Starring: Starring Bruce Willis, Mos Def
Review: Richard Donner knows action. Specifically, the man knows tension. Donner doesn’t try to make the action movie to end all action movies. His film is a tense adventure in the real world, rather than an attempt to make the biggest, loudest cartoon since the last biggest, loudest cartoon. He relies on a solid cast, tight editing and deft misdirection. The man who gave us the Lethal Weapon pictures, Superman and Scrooged knows timing, and he knows how to make a film that feels at once ageless and contemporary.
That’s not to say that 16 Blocks is some kind of cinematic revelation. It’s a cop thriller, a chase scene that plays out more or less in real time, but beyond the high concept, doesn’t rely on the kind of insane plot turns that help “24″ keep its realtime plot roller-coaster jerking along. The high concept: A washed-up old cop has to get a witness to the grand jury ““ sixteen blocks away ““ with every corrupt cop in New York City (which, apparently, is a lot of cops) hunting him.
As a dulled alcoholic has-been, Bruce Willis lays it on a little thick. The man’s a terrific action hero, and he does vulnerablity better than anyone (now that Harrison Ford makes nothing but crap) in the genre. Still, turning Die Hard‘s John McLean or Sin City‘s Hartigan into a slightly doughy booze-soaked slob is a bit much … until the plot moves along and lightly suggests that Willis’ Jack Mosley has deliberately medicated himself into oblivion because of his past. The fact that Donner and screenwriter Richard Wenk don’t hit us over the head with Willis’ angst is much to their credit.
As is the casting of Mos Def. The rapper-turned-actor is funny and affecting as Eddie Bunker, the inadvertent target of the dirty cops. You know how Owen Wilson is always playing this annoying guy who talks about feelings and other “unmanly” stuff when, say, Jackie Chan is fighting for their lives? Imagine a version of that guy who can still get under your skin, but you don’t want to find out where he lives so you can punch him in the neck. Yeah, that’s kinda what Eddie Bunker’s like.
It’s a pretty good script with a very good cast, made all the more watchable because of Donner. It would get a higher rating if the lone cop against the world thing wasn’t, you know, pretty much played out. Still, you can just feel the comfort of being in a master storyteller’s hands, and in the days of ten-dollar tickets and five-buck popcorn, who wants to mess around with hackwork?