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16 Blocks

Bruce Willis shot to movie stardom in 1988 playing unlikely hero John McClane in the blockbuster action series Die Hard. Despite Die Hard's massive (and well-deserved) mainstream success, the movie was unconventional insofar as Willis' iconoclastic performance injected an unusual element of sentimentality into the typically macho thriller genre formula. Ever since, Willis has been attracted to quirky projects, resulting in some interesting performances, a long list of flops, and a few bona fide box-office smashes. One might think that Willis teaming up with Lethal Weapon director Richard Donner may signal a return to action success for the star, but Donner's own recent filmography is not so edifying, and their 2006 joint-effort 16 Blocks is both more weird and stupid than it is exciting. Willis stars in this oddball, touchy-feely chase thriller as burned-out, sad-sack New York City police detective Jack Mosely. An alcoholic with a chronic limp, Mosely is given one quick errand to run before clocking out of an all-night shift that has left him in a near-catatonic state: transport a witness from a holding cell 16 blocks to the courthouse where a grand jury awaits his testimony. As the witness, small-time crook Eddie (Mos Def), jabbers, Mosely sleepwalks him toward the courthouse, but when they stop at the liquor store to replenish Mosely's stash, his car is ambushed by assassins hired by corrupt cops to make sure Eddie never testifies against them. Mosely and Eddie spend the next hour-and-a-half racing through lower Manhattan playing cat-and-mice with Mosely's former partner Frank (David Morse) and his trigger-happy henchmen, and discovering that through this ordeal they can redeem their shady pasts. If the touches of emotional vulnerability running through Die Hard were a surprise, the spigot of sap pouring over every frame of 16 Blocks is a toxic shock; it's almost as if screenwriter Richard Wenk was trying to bring together the disparate audiences of Rush Hour and The Notebook. Willis' downtrodden Mosely is nearly a parody (a parody Willis already played perfectly in 1991's harsh treat The Last Boy Scout), but rather than emerging as an inspirational oddity, the movie wallows in discredited clichés and insipid greeting card emotions. Dragging it down even further is the unfortunately grating display by Def, as the semi-retarded Eddie. There's not much Def could do to repair this hackneyed and ridiculous character without his director reining him in, but the only way Eddie could have been more annoying is if he were played by Chris Tucker. While 16 Blocks is not a terrible movie to watch — it moves quickly and sports several points of unintentional interest (like how every block in the city is so densely crowded one can only imagine the entire population of Manhattan is walking the streets at once) — there's certainly little positive to remember about it, and its gooey finale is a classic of misguided moviemaking. Warner presents the title on DVD in a good anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. The disc also includes a "shocking" alternate ending that is surprisingly no less excruciating than the awful theatrical ending, plus deleted scenes with director/screenwriter commentary. Keep-case.
—Gregory P. Dorr



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