Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 2, 2006)
2006ís 16 Blocks features two guys in need of a hit. Director Richard Donner made his name with Superman and the Lethal Weapon series, but heíd faded. Of his four movies over the last 10 years, only 1998ís Lethal Weapon 4 managed to break the $100 million mark. 2003ís Timeline grossed a pathetic $19 million, and even the combined wattage of Julia Roberts and Mel Gibson couldnít take 1997ís Conspiracy Theory past $76 million.
And then thereís actor Bruce Willis. Now in his fifties, Willis hasnít headlined a hit in years. Not counting animated fare like Over the Hedge, 1999ís The Sixth Sense was his last flick to make more than $100 million. Recent efforts like 2005ís Hostage and 2004ís The Whole Ten Yards completely tanked.
Unfortunately, 16 Blocks didnít exactly bring Willis and Donner back to the top of the charts. It took in a weak $36 million, which just about covers the bill for Willisís hairpieces. I guess both men will have to hope for renewed success later, as Blocks failed to find an audience.
In Blocks, Willis plays burned-out, alcoholic old cop Jack Mosley. He gets a simple assignment in which he needs to escort a petty crook named Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) 16 blocks from jail to court where heíll act as a witness. After a long night, Jack just wants to go home, but he grudgingly accepts the apparently easy task.
Unfortunately for both Jack and Eddie, matters donít go smoothly. Within minutes, they come under attack from guys who want Eddie dead. Jack soon finds out why. Eddie saw some bad cops and will blow the whistle on them. This group includes Jackís old partner Frank Nugent (David Morse).
Frank tries to convince Jack to turn over Eddie to him so they can dispose of him and get off the hook. Jack decides to make a stand and he takes Eddie under his wing to guide him to court. The movie follows their efforts to get there.
When I saw the previews for Blocks, I thought it had a lot of potential. The premise sounded reasonably promising, and it presented much room for tight, anxiety-provoking action. Add to that a good roster of talent behind it and the flick should have been a winner.
Unfortunately, it too often shoots itself in the foot. The film simply lacks the requisite tension to work as a thriller. I donít mind that we quickly learn about the forces arrayed against Jack and Eddie. That factor should add drama since we can appreciate the long odds against which our odd couple battles. Basically the entire New York police force comes at them, whether wittingly or not.
Somehow Donner manages to almost totally eliminate the tension, though. Part of the problem comes from all the tricks he uses. Blocks feasts on red herrings. Donner presents one false move after another, and they quickly lose any form of effectiveness. From early in the film, we learn not to trust what we see, and that means that potentially dramatic scenes fall flat. We know that nothing special will happen, so we donít invest in them.
Attempts to develop camaraderie between Jack and Eddie feel forced. They become pals because thatís the kind of movie this is. Defís odd performance doesnít help. He channels Ratso Rizzo in a quirky, self-conscious turn. I think Def is arguably the most talented rapper-turned-actor out there, and with roles in varied flicks such as The Hitchhikerís Guide to the Galaxy and The Woodsman, he certainly shows much greater range than I ever expected. However, I donít know why he decided to make Eddie such a cartoon, as this renders the character annoying from start to finish.
The filmís main problem remains its lack of excitement. It tosses out the sporadic action scene but never really invests in them. Combine that with the ways in which the movie seems to go out of its way to telegraph elements and 16 Blocks ends up as a lackluster effort.