16 Blocks (2006)

It’s the end of the day. You’re tired. You’ve punched the clock and you’re ready to head home. You haven’t had a drink in … it must be at least five hours now, while you were doing some paperwork. Your limp has started to act up, and you’re sweating. Time to go home. Wait, what’s the boss saying? Another job? Overtime? Nobody else is around to do it? Sometimes, you hate life. “It’s too long,” you complain.

That’s the position that Bruce Willis’ character, Jack, finds himself in. He’s the type of police officer that’s simply counting days until retirement comes. He drinks on the job, can hardly walk properly, and is the one that stays to maintain a scene while other cops go out and do cop things — like shoot bad guys or something like that. He’s the least likely of action heroes, apart from, you know, being played by Bruce Willis and stuff. It’s often hard to root against Willis’ characters no matter how beaten down they appear.

His overtime assignment is an escort mission. A criminal is going to testify to the grand jury, but he has to get there by 10:00, or else his testimony won’t be heard. Seems easy enough, right? Get the dude in the car, drive the necessary distance (in this case, the 16 blocks mentioned in the title), and then go home. He has over an hour to do it, as well. Time to stop for a drink on the way, he thinks. Coming out of the liquor store, there’s a man near his car who is moving funny. Jack shoots the man, and learns the truth: His man, currently handcuffed in the back of the car, is a marked man. It’s going to be up to him to get this guy to the court on time, and he’s going to have to fight through his fair share of baddies to do it.

The twist, which he only learns after he has already killed a man, is that he’s not trying to escape from normal villains. No, this time, he’s racing against his fellow cops. They are the ones that are going to be testified against; they did something bad that they don’t want being brought to light. At the helm of Jack’s opposition is his former partner, Frank (David Morse). That leads to some fun and often humorous dialogue exchanges, which are also revealing in regards to the characters’ pasts.

The witness is played by Mos Def, acting both as comedic relief and as an annoyance to both Jack and the audience. There’s something about his voice, which is higher pitched than you’d expect from a lifelong criminal, and the way that he forms sentences leaves a lot to be desired. The film toys around with whether or not Jack is doing the right thing by protecting him; Frank claims that he’s only going to go back to a life of crime, while the witness, Eddie, says he’s heading to Seattle to open a baking shop.

Unfortunately, that element of the story doesn’t hold much weight and is largely forgotten about after the exchange that initiates it. Eddie and Jack end up becoming somewhat friendly, turning 16 Blocks into more of a buddy action flick instead of whatever it was before — just an action film with an interesting premise, I guess. Most of the film is spent in chase scenes, with some really weird and oddly placed pauses, like when the characters hold up on a bus for what seems like 15 minutes.

It’s worth mentioning that Jack is a far more capable action star than you would think, assuming you overlooked the actor playing him and focused on the character’s problems instead. He’s hungover, has a bad leg (Eddie suggests that it might need to be amputated, like his cousin’s), is old and possibly depressed. All of those things seem to go away when the characters are forced to run away or shoot at the bad guys, though. It’s amazing what a little bit of adrenaline will do for you, but ignoring all of these weaknesses makes the film less than plausible and believable. What’s the point of making this character so vulnerable if he’s going to become invincible once the action starts?

At one point, he’s even shot in the hand. Refusing to be taped up (because, really, what good would duct tape do?), he continues on like it’s less painful than a paper cut. The gunshot wound he suffered never becomes important, and I had to wonder why it even happened at all. There are more than one of these why-did-that-happen? moments in 16 Blocks, and it seemed to me that either there was a lack of competency on the part of the director or writer, or the film was cut for time, and the scenes that actually made sense of these minor moments were cut.

Bruce Willis still delivers in the lead role, and I really enjoyed watching David Morse as the main bad guy. He’s sinister enough to make a competent villain, and yet when he and Willis talk with one another, you can see compassion and something deeper hiding beneath the surface. Mos Def needed to come back down to reality, playing his role way too over-the-top and neurotic to be truly effective instead of just annoying.

Mostly, though, I had a good time with 16 Blocks. It has enough action to keep you entertained, even if the pauses come at odd intervals and seem to completely crush any momentum the film was building. But watching Bruce Willis in a half-decent action flick is almost always entertaining, even if 16 Blocks appeared to be the victim of being trimmed down too much, introducing too many elements that weren’t expanded upon. Still, it’s fun, and that’s what you want out of an action flick, so it’s hard to not say that it’s worth your time.

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