June 24, 2006
Bruce Willis essays yet another burnt out cop in 16 Blocks (2006) playing detective Jack Mosley. He’s world-weary and has definitely seen better days. Willis has had a lot of practice playing this kind of role and slips into it effortlessly in the way he moves, the sounds he makes when he sits down and the general air of bored indifference. Jack just looks tired and you can see it all in Willis’ expressive eyes.
Jack is assigned the mundane task of transporting a smart-ass criminal named Edward Bunker (Def) 16 blocks in just less than two hours to the courthouse. Sounds easy, right? It turns out someone wants Eddie dead as two hitmen try to whack him in broad daylight and a routine day turns into a sweat-soaked paranoid one where every sound puts the two men on edge.
Jack and Eddie take refuge in a bar while the cop calls for back-up. A bunch of fellow plainclothes show up including his ex-partner of 20 years (Morse). Frank explains that Eddie was going to rat on a dirty cop and they are there to make sure that he never makes it to the courthouse. This doesn’t sit too well with a stand-up guy like Jack who takes off with Eddie at gunpoint thus initiating a cat and mouse game with Frank. The film builds to a climatic hostage taking situation as Jack and Eddie take over a city bus with police quickly surrounding it. As time goes on it looks less likely that they are going to make it out of this situation alive.
Mos Def adopts an annoying whiny, weaselly voice that almost makes you wish that Frank and his guys stop him. If the idea was to make Eddie sympathetic in any way then the filmmakers failed. Willis is excellent as the sad sack cop despite having played this role before. He may be a burn out but Jack still has what it takes to get the job done and capitalizes on everyone underestimating him. Willis brings his customary wounded dignity to the role and has an uncanny ability to make this character instantly sympathetic because he’s not some superhuman action hero, just some guy trying to make it through a hellish day. David Morse is fine as the film’s cunning antagonist, playing on Jack’s doubts and weaknesses, trying to manipulate him to get what he wants.
Director Richard Donner makes good use of the New York City streets and how its chaos and claustrophobia feeds into Jack’s desperation and paranoia. He wisely keeps the film moving at a brisk pace only pausing for the occasional breather before plunging us back into the chase. The screenplay takes a few rather convenient plot turns but nothing so obvious as to take us completely out of the movie. Donner does a good job of building the tension over the course of the movie as Frank closes in on Jack. The consummate professional that Donner is, he has crafted a decent B-crime movie, reminding us that he was the guy who directed the first Lethal Weapon film (1987) instead of its much inferior sequels.
There is a collection of deleted scenes with commentary by director Richard Donner and screenwriter Richard Wenk. They talk about why this footage was cut. These are little bits of footage that tend to provide more information than is needed and was rightly cut.
Also included is an “Alternate Ending” that Donner originally filmed but decided not to use. It somewhat redeems Morse’s character or, at the very least, provides another layer so that he is not as clear cut a bad guy as in the theatrical version. You can watch this ending on its own or integrated back into the movie.
Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.