Bruce plays cat-and-mouse with a convict and a mustache in tow
By Devin D. O'Leary
Directed by Richard Donner
Cast: Bruce Willis, Mos Def, David Morse
Bruce Willis has long been an advocate of the “hair style” of acting. That is the fine art of using one's chosen hairstyle to express character. Often--but not always--it works like this: Shaved-bald Bruce is an action star (see Armageddon, Tears of the Sun), hairpiece-wearing Bruce is a dramatic actor (see Bandits, The Sixth Sense). For his newest film, 16 Blocks, Bruce rocks a bad mustache and his natural receding hairline, indicating a character somewhere between Action Bruce and Dramatic Bruce.
In 16 Blocks, Willis plays Jack Mosley, a worn-out, world-weary New York City cop. It's not much of a stretch for Willis and only a few degrees off from his last world-weary cop role in Sin City. Still, Willis looks comfortable in the setting and the casting sets viewers up with certain, soon-to-be-met expectations.
As soon as we meet Mosley, we know he's burned-out, dog-tired and not nearly drunk enough. Just as he's about to clock out at the end of a very long day, he's hit up by his boss to perform one last meaningless task. All Mosley has to do is escort a witness to the courthouse 16 blocks away. Inside the stationhouse lockup, Mosley is introduced to a motormouthed convict named Eddie Bunker (Mos Def, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) who's about to have his record wiped clean in exchange for testifying in a major trial.
Mosley, angry about this busywork, frustrated with the blabbering convict and about to go ballistic over Manhattan's traffic, stops off at a liquor store on the way to the courthouse. That, as they say, is when things start to go south.
A van full of gun-toting thugs pulls up to Mosley's cop car and tries to give Eddie a few extra breathing holes. Mosley manages to gun them down and escape with Eddie in tow. The two hole up in a nearby bar and Mosley calls in to the stationhouse for help. A group of cops led by Green Mile actor David Morse soon shows up. One look at Morse's “I'm a crooked cop” face and you know where this is going. Of course, Eddie recognizes one of the officers. Turns out he's supposed to testify in the case of some corrupt NYC police officers, and it's those very officers who are gunning for him.
Mosley--being either highly moral or just plain ornery--refuses to play ball with his fellow officers, setting off a deadly cat-and-mouse chase through the streets of New York.
Longtime director Richard Donner (Superman, Lethal Weapon, Assassins) uses a Cajun marinade injector to pump 16 Blocks full to bursting with action. The script by long-lost writer/director Richard Wenk (the man behind 1986's Vamp) occasionally paints itself into a corner. Morse's evil cop seems to have some sort of psychic ability to find Bruce Willis anywhere in the crowded streets of Manhattan, the exciting chase narrative eventually devolves into a static hostage drama and the climactic wrap-up reveals some fairly creaky plot mechanics. Still, 16 Blocks is an enjoyable piece of popcorn-fueled entertainment.
Mos Def, pound-for-pound America's best rapper-turned-actor, does the most memorable work here. He turns what could have been an annoying Chris Tucker character into an endearing and believable human being. His interactions with Willis are enough to lift 16 Blocks well above its Midnight Run-style buddy cop film roots.
16 Blocks doesn't break any new ground in the action movie genre. But its compact, film noir-inspired story does boast more character and more realism than your average gimmick-laden summer blockbuster. Plus, it's got Bruce Willis in a mustache, which says more than any 100 lines of dialogue can.
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