Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is an aging, rundown, alcoholic cop who, at this stage of his career, finds himself at the bottom of the totem pole. Thus, he gets saddled with the menial errand of escorting smalltime thief Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) 16 blocks from the precinct to the courthouse, where Eddie will testify in a grand jury. But what begins as a routine assignment for Detective Mosley becomes a desperate bid for survival as the bleary eyed, hung-over cop and his charge find themselves under relentless attack by focused, well-armed assailants intent on making sure Eddie doesn't make it to his court appointment.
16 Blocks is a thinking man's action thriller. Even though, on the surface, it looks like a suspense film, a case could be made for it to be considered a character study picture. Amidst all the frenetic bullets and chase sequences, you'll find many moments of casual interaction, as leisurely enacted by Willis, Mos Def and even Morse. Willis and Mos Def, in their mismatched buddy roles, put in some character acting and have several scenes where they just have conversations (some on point, some non sequitur), in between the chases. Mos Def's motormouth character, in particular, spends an inordinate amount of time just riffing about suits and signs and bakeries.
Bruce Willis continues his recent trend (see Hostage) of portraying jaded, burnt-out cops who end up seizing one last shot at redemption. He excels in playing this type of role: tired, world-weary, kicked-around, maybe even a little corrupt, but, ultimately, someone not to be eff'd with and someone who can be depended upon to doggedly do the right thing (Bruce seriously needs to patent this character). Jack Mosley, as played by Willis, is laconic, paunchy, shuffling, stuck on the bottom rung career wise, and has a dire craving for alcohol. But the audience never doubts he'll man up when the chips are down.
I'm a fan of Mos Def, from way back when he was just a hip hop artist. Don't get me wrong, he was and is a great rapper. He flows and rhymes with insight and intelligence. And he's great as the host of HBO's Def Poetry. His natural, off-the-cuff style of acting is making folks sit up and pay attention (check out Brown Sugar, The Italian Job, and Something the Lord Made). With 16 Blocks, he comes out of left field with his jazzy interpretation of Eddie Bunker: verbose, optimistic and a bit quirky. The only negative in his portrayal is the grating fashion in which he channels the nasal voice of comedian Eddie Griffin. Other than that, Mos is solid.
David Morse is great as the main villain. He injects his Det. Frank Nugent, Jack's crooked current supervisor and ex-partner, with equal doses of complexity, cynicism, and immorality. Nugent's been around the block, knows the ropes and could care less about minimizing collateral damage. Yet, a part of Nugent still cares for his former partner Mosley and regrets having to put him down. But, in the end, he's gotta do what a dirty cop's gotta do.
Director Richard Donner gauges the tempo of this movie just right. Not too plodding, but not all out action, either. Oh, the action scenes are plentiful and charged with enough tension but they aren't break-neckedly constant. There is ample breathing room in between the pursuits, a pace which nicely suits Willis's middle-aged, gimpy-legged hero, as he actually gets a chance to take in oxygen, in between exchanging gunfire and platitudes.
The sparse Special Features consist of an alternate ending not seen in theaters, several deleted scenes with wiseacre commentary by Richard Donner and his screenwriter, and a theatrical trailer. A film commentary would've been nice.
16 Blocks is a well-meaning movie that is introspective and thoughtful, yet strives to give the fans their money's worth with its done-by-the-numbers shoot-em-up violence. There is a worthy message here trying to make itself heard, thru the voice of Eddie Bunker, that Pollyanna of a crook. The movie has a top-drawer star at the top of his game, who seems, in fact, to get better as he ages. And it's got Mos Def, who I firmly believe will be heard from for a lot of years to come. Three and a half stars and a solid recommendation.