Bruce Willis as Jack Mosely
Mos Def as Eddie Bunker
David Morse as Frank Nugent
Jack Mosely (Bruce Willis) is a tired old man, burning out his last few years on the New York police force until he can collect his pension and retire to a life of quiet alcoholism… until he is sent to escort Eddie Bunker (Mos Def), the star witness in an investigation against Jack’s ex-partner Frank (David Morse) and his cadre of crooked cops, the 16 blocks to the courthouse. When Frank and the rest of Jack’s brothers in blue come for Eddie, Jack has to decide if there’s still time for him to do the right thing.
The new film from classic Hollywood action director Richard Donner (“Lethal Weapon”), “16 Blocks” is a serviceable thriller that leans nicely towards character, but at the cost of excitement. Told in nearly real-time, it stops and starts, putting in buffers between the action beats for decent-if-uninspired character moments between Jack and Eddie. It’s necessary to understand why they do what they do, but it makes what they’re doing occasionally dull and more often, unbelievable. Like most thrillers, the actual mechanics of the plot don’t hold up to well under scrutiny. With enough adrenaline, a good thriller can get over the problem, but all the stops for introspection “16 Blocks” takes give too many opportunities to question suspension of disbelief.
And the actual characters aren’t quite interesting enough to draw attention away from the fact. Willis has Mosely’s haggardness down pat, with his sagging, graying moustache, slow, tentative movements, and inability to run great distances without a need for a breather. He and Donner play him against his action star type and it works. Mos Def’s Eddie is more of a standard fast-talking-street-hustler-with-a-heart-of-gold, with a nasal, earnest delivery that tries to be evocative and annoying in equal measure. Def has turned into a decent actor with a fair amount of screen charisma that, more than anything else, pulls Eddie off as more than a cliché.
It loses momentum in the last act as Donner pulls a shameless bait and switch to put in a standard Hollywood ending for a film that opened with more promise. There’s a good movie in there somewhere but it’s unbalanced, and makes for a generally bumpy ride.
“16 Blocks” is rated PG-13 for violence, intense sequences of action, and some strong language.