16 Blocks

Year 2001

Bruce Willis   as  Jack Mosley
Mos Def as Eddie Bunker
David Morse as Frank Nugent
Director - Richard Donner  
Screenwriter   - Richard Wenk


As part of the Bruce Willis action 4-pack or whatever it was, came 16 Blocks. First off, I'm leery of any movie that starts with numbers. Things like 13 Ghosts and 15 Minutes didn't fill me with hope for this one. If the movie had been named Sixteen Blocks then I would've felt better about it.

Add to the numbers in the title the number of corporations that had to become involved in order to get this movie filmed and released and well, ahem. You've got Warner Brothers in association with Alcon Entertainment AND Millenium Films presenting an Emmett/Furla Films AND Cheyenne Enterprises production for Equity Pictures Medienfonds GmbH AND Nu Image Entertainment GmbH. You've got seven film companies involved before you get to the director. Too many cooks spoil the broth? Too many egos sabotage the celluloid?

Getting seven film companies to agree on simple things has got to be harder than getting a man on the moon...at least since the 60s. And did you check out the GmbH? Ewe Boll had probably hit his film funding limit for the year and Germany had some money to spend, so this picture was made.

Penultimately, although I'd heard about the movie, I'd never heard anything good about the movie.

But, I'd never heard anything bad about the movie, either. And Bruce Willis was in 12 Monkeys and that title started with a number. It also had a foreign born director. So, maybe this movie wouldn't be a total disaster.

I mean, besides Bruce Willis, it also has David Morse. I liked him in The Green Mile. Things aren't so dismal.

And it's got Mos Def in it.

Me: Who's Mos Def?
KW: It's pronounced Mose Def not Moss Def.
Me: Who is he?
KW: He played Ford Prefect in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Me: Sounds like the name of a rapper.
KW: He is.
Me: Ford Prefect wasn't that good of a character in the movie.

Uh-oh. Maybe my "cautious optimism" is really "misplaced optimism". Bruce Willis films around 2001 were pretty much hit or miss. The third of the four movies in this pack that I watched was Last Man Standing which made the "Under a Rock" category. My trepidation grew palpable.

Bravely, I popped the movie in anyway. (That was an obtuse The Brave Little Toaster pun.)

The movie plays. Is that Bruce Willis? Man, he did not age well. He looks like a sixty something wino. Oh, he's supposed to look like a fifty something alcoholic. Good job, Bruce!

Despite this, Bruce is apparently tolerated on the NYPD and even looked upon kindly by one or two of his co-workers. Sort of an old, torn, moth eaten coat that won't keep you warm in cold weather but Saint Vincent de Paul won't accept so you just have to get around to throwing it out one day.

State's witness Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) needs to testify in court and because the person scheduled to escort him to the court house is stuck in traffic, Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is told that he now has to ferry said special witness to the court house which is sixteen blocks away. (Hmm. "Are all you guys named Mosely?" The name must be a tribute to Yaphet Koto's character in Midnight Run.)

If you've never seen The Gauntlet or Midnight Run or that James Woods movie where he has to cross a police barricade, then this one will be a surprise to you. For everybody else in the world but you, this is a remake. (So, if you haven't seen any of the others, you should dig right in and watch this one. Then watch Midnight Run for DeNiro's and Farina's infectious use of the f-bomb.)

You see, the good news about 16 Blocks is that it is decent even it is so derivate that it can termed a remake. It even sort of raises the bar a little for movies dealing with cops escorting people to trial. Bruce Willis does a good job playing his character. Seeing him slowly returning from a lush to what he once was provided a nice evolution. He's better than Eastwood or Woods in the role of protector.

Sticking with The Gauntlet comparison, how about Mos Def versus Sandra Locke? How about a potted plant versus Sondra Locke? Mos would have had to be mummified to lose this battle. Fortunately, even without any embalming, he wins the convincing character portrayal battle not only against Sondra Locke but also most of the other "actors" in Hollywood. He really did a good job. Not a great job, but he wasn't annoying for the most part. Sometimes he'd be a little too quick witted for being a burn out or a little too ghetto, but more often than not he stayed a steady course throughout.

Based on the director's comments the unevenness of the character was due to the fact the he, the director, encouraged adlibbing and left in a lot of the impromptu dialog, a.k.a. crap.

David Morse as the obstructionist cop suffers the same fate. Sometimes he's a little too by the book and sometimes he's too rogue.

All in all, the movie's not a bad diversion. There are a couple of twists that are pleasant rather than forced. The chase under New York's Chinatown could have been extended a bit because people not from the East don't realize how many levels there are to cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Trenton. (Yes, even dilapidated, boarded-up, Trenton, New Jersey.) This movie provides some insight into how complex some cities can be.

The ending felt like getting pelted in the head with hammers fired from a mortar it was so contrived and forced. If your DVD copy has the alternate ending, it's much more satisfying than the theatrical ending.

Very little chick flick potential to point to, but there is some with the alternate ending. There's a bit of a language issue and a couple of how-did-that-happen moments. The movie tries, and fails, to be cerebral but not so pretentiously that it becomes offensive.

Conclusion: Jonathan Demme is better than Uwe Boll as a director for German funded films.

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