Dir: Richard Donner. US. 2006. 113mins.
A grizzled Bruce Willis and a wisecracking Mos Def play the odd couple at the centre of 16 Blocks, a not very convincing yetstill quite likeable cop thriller from LethalWeapon franchise director Richard Donner.
Though there are echoes of Donner's late-1980s buddy cop classics in the set-up andtone, there's no chance of a LethalWeapon-sized gross from this relatively modest Alcon-Millennium-Emmett/Furlaproduction. But with Willis coming off SinCity and Def's star on the rise, what might bepossible is a decent theatrical take followed by a good performance on DVD.
Making the most of thatpotential won't be easy. Domestic distributor Warner, which opens the film widein North America this coming weekend, will have to work hard to get an older,predominantly male audience off the couch and into the multiplex.
Outside the US, distributors(Warner in some territories, independents that have licensed the film fromMillennium parent Nu Image in others) will have tomake the most of Willis' proven, though now somewhat diminished internationalappeal.
Willis' Jack Mosley is not,at first, a very appealing hero: a sweaty, broken down NYPD detective whostruggles through his workday with the help of a bottle of booze.
At the end of his shift onemorning, Jack is assigned to take Eddie Bunker (Def), an amiable pettycriminal, the 16 city blocks from the lock-up to the courthouse to testifybefore a grand jury. What seems like a mundane job turns serious, however, whensomeone tries to kill Eddie, setting off a cat-and-mouse pursuit throughrush-hour streets and Chinatown tenements.
The script by Richard Wenk (Just The Ticket) is a bit of a grab bag, containing elementsof police corruption drama and hostage thriller as well as odd couple actionromp. But it contains just about enough intrigue and twists to sustain interestbeyond the initial revelation of Eddie's significance as a grand jury witness.
The story is punctuated byoccasional shootouts, spurts of action and developments in the relationshipbetween Eddie and Jack. The pursuit sequences involve lots of hand-held camerawork, a few nicely shot car chases and some interesting locations, but theynever manage to build to a really exciting crescendo.
And there's nothingparticularly original about the relationship between the two centralcharacters: over the course of the story, goodheartedEddie's belief that people can change (he dreams of opening a bakery inSeattle) breaks through the wall of cynicism that Jack has built around himself.
The relationship does,though, give the film an appealing warmth and a fewquite touching moments. It is also produces a thread of mildly effectivecomedy, though some of the humour feels a tad forced.
With a drawn face and ashencomplexion, Willis certainly isn't afraid to look the part of Jack. Ifanything, in fact, he tries a little too hard to appear physically andemotionally washed up. Rapper-actor Def, most recently seen in The Hitchhiker's Guide ToThe Galaxy, is believable and funny as the garrulous Eddie.
Warner Bros Pictures
Warner Bros (selected territories)/Nu Image
Jim Van Wyck