16 Blocks Review
By Joe Lozito
Richard Donner is no one-trick pony. The director of the finest superhero movie (1978's "Superman") also gave us such varied fare as "The Omen", "Ladyhawke" and episodes of "The Six Million Dollar Man" before settling into the "Lethal Weapon" series in the 80s. By the time that franchise had run its course with 1998's gasping "Lethal Weapon 4", it had long since run out of steam. Older and perhaps a bit wiser, Mr. Donner took a break from directing (with one ignoble pitstop for "Timeline" in 2003). Now "16 Blocks" sees Mr. Donner back in buddy-cop territory but with more on his mind than action.
In "16 Blocks", when we first meet detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis), he's wheezing up a flight of stairs to guard a crime scene. No sooner is he left alone in the victim's apartment than he rummages through the cabinets looking for booze. Perpetually half-lidded and sweaty, Jack is not your typical role for Mr. Willis, or your typical lead character for post-9/11 NYC cop movie. When Jack is assigned the seemingly innocuous task of transporting a prisoner (Mos Def) to his court appearance 16 blocks away, Jack finds himself blind-sided by a web of corruption which will test his loyalty as well as his survival skills.
Mr. Willis sinks happily, if not comfortably, into a role that might be more suited to Dennis Franz' Detective Sipowicz from "NYPD Blue". Mr. Willis is always a welcome screen presence, but I look forward to the day when he doesn't try so hard. Pasty and limping, every character trait seems more put-on than natural. Jack may not have the lived-in feel that the character requires, but he's certainly an interesting hero. Mos Def, also a reliable actor, falls back on a whiny voice that borders on caricature, but eventually settles in for the long haul.
Richard Wenk's intelligent script keeps his characters moving while believably making very little headway. Mr. Donner makes wonderful use of Manhattan locations - how nice that Vancouver or Toronto doesn't play stand-in for the Big Apple. There's no substitute for the crowded streets of Chinatown as these characters, pursued by the always interesting David Morse, seek refuge down one alley after another.
Of course, the king of the corrupt society genre must be Sidney Lumet who, in the course of three years, directed the crumbling-culture hat-trick "Serpico", "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Network". While "16 Blocks" lacks the social resonance of Mr. Lumet's films, like Mr. Willis' exhausted cop, it shows a desire to be something more than it is.