Should I Watch..? '16 Blocks' (2006)
What's the big deal?
16 Blocks is an action thriller film released in 2006 and is the last original film directed by veteran action maestro Richard Donner, at the time of writing. The film is presented in real-time and stars Bruce Willis, rapper Mos Def and David Morse. The film concerns an alcoholic NYPD officer assigned to escort a petty criminal to the nearby courthouse and finds himself in a whole heap of trouble. Reviews were mixed when the film was released but the movie managed to take around $65 million against a $55 million budget. The screenplay was written by Richard Wenk who would go on to write The Mechanic and The Expendables 2.
What's it about?
Jack Mosley is a washed-up, alcoholic NYPD detective who is suffering after working through the night. Despite this, he is assigned another case as he prepares to head for home - deadbeat petty criminal Eddie Bunker is destined for a date at the courthouse sixteen blocks away in order to testify in a police corruption case and he needs to be there by 10am. Without uniform around, Mosley reluctantly agrees and quickly discovers that Bunker is an irritating person to be around.
However, Mosley soon discovers that there are far more dangerous things than Bunker's inane chatter. A number of police officers want to see Bunker miss his appointment in front of the grand jury including Mosley's former partner, Frank Nugent. With armed officers attempting to assassinate Bunker and Mosley as well, the pair of them escape into the busy streets of New York on foot - and the clock is ticking...
What's to like?
The film certainly manages to gather the right ingredients together for an exciting thrill-ride. Willis is obviously an established actor star, ever since Die Hard launched him onto the A-list. But director Donner has pedigree as well, helming every one of the Lethal Weapon films as well as other action films like Assassins. With old hands, the film feels somewhat familiar but no less bombastic because of it - 16 Blocks is one film that knows how to deliver on the action front.
The film's simplistic storyline offers a few twists and turns along the way but the biggest surprise comes in the form of Mos Def whose performance as Bunker is probably one of the best of his career. Both he and Willis inject their fairly one-dimensional characters with depth and humanity and with Morse as the crooked cop after them, the film has a trio of engaging actors offering much more than the material suggests. The movie isn't particularly big or clever but it is entertaining enough to divert your attention for the duration.
- In order to make his character's limp more realistic, Bruce Willis shot the entire movie with a pebble in his shoe.
- As well as the parallels with the real-life Edward Bunker who turned his life around after leaving prison, the dialogue also references Chuck Berry as another example. Mos Def would go on to play Berry in Cadillac Records.
- Willis originally wanted another rapper, Ludacris, to play the part of Eddie Bunker. Ludacris would instead go on to reprise his earlier role of Tej Parker in the increasingly successful series of Fast And Furious films in Fast Five.
What's not to like?
Unfortunately, the film suffers from being almost completely forgettable. Despite the competent direction and confident performances from the three leads, the film never seems to stay in the memory for very long and lets itself down in other areas. The supporting cast are pretty anonymous with Stern in particular making no impression on viewers at all. And despite the strength of character shown by the leads, I struggled to invest myself in the picture. Yes, it's entertaining but it isn't distinctive enough to stand out from other films of this type.
While this might sound harsh, I also struggled to see why the film's budget went. The story is basic enough to bypass enormous set-pieces and yet, the film still tries to offer the viewer something to wow them. Nothing wrong with that but the practicality of trying this undermines the effort. Take the scene with the crashed coach bus, laid under siege by Morse's men. I just felt that it slowed the film's pace right down and the film needed pace, given that it was supposed to be against the clock. It's an OK film but in truth, I somehow expected more given the amount of expertise behind it.
Should I watch it?
16 Blocks is a curious film, being neither explosive enough to sit alongside the big boys of the action genre while still being better than many B-movie offerings. Willis and Mos Def make a decent pairing and perhaps give the threadbare script more attention than it demanded. I just wanted the movie to grab me by the scruff of my neck and hurl me into a white-knuckle thrill ride in downtown New York. Suffice to say, my breathing remained constant throughout.
Great For: lad's night in, undemanding action fans, overweight and middle-aged men
Not So Great For: short-term memory, CV highlights, the reputation of the NYPD
What else should I watch?
Personally, I'd rather stick with Donner's Lethal Weapon series and Lethal Weapon 2 in particular because that was the best one. Mel Gibson and Danny Glover are a timeless combination and give the films a real comic buzz between them, despite the film's excellent action scenes and the storyline giving both men time to shine. Assuming that you're fed up with me recommending Die Hard for action fans - which is like me recommending breathing, quite frankly - then Willis still has plenty to offer and not just for those who enjoy a shoot-out. His performance in Pulp Fiction revived his career and demonstrated that he wasn't just a handsome stuntman while his acting abilities were further praised after The Sixth Sense.
Of course, nothing lasts forever and the longer Willis' career goes on, the more misfires he seems to generate. He hasn't had a decent outing as John McClane since 1995's Die Hard With A Vengeance while his attempts at comedy fall flatter than a punchline at the gallows. With recent turkeys like Cop Out and forgettable filler like Precious Cargo, viewers are advised to approach more recent Willis movie with a certain degree of caution.
Det. Jack Mosley
Det. Frank Nugent
Capt. Dan Gruber
Release Date (UK)
28th April, 2006
Action, Crime, Thriller
© 2017 Benjamin Cox