Beaten-down, boozehound New York cop Jack Mosley (Willis) experiences a moment of moral clarity and some heavy gunfire while escorting no-mark prisoner Eddie Bunker (Def) across Manhattan for a curiously scrutinised court appearance.
There are a number of good things in this taut, effective tale of
a grizzled NYPD burn-out (Bruce Willis) attempting to chaperone an annoying dweeb (Mos Def) across the titular distance without either of them getting their heads blown off. First, in its well-sustained ticking-clock suspense and explosive yet restrained action sequences, 16 Blocks provides clear evidence of a return to form for director Richard Donner, seemingly a spent force given most of his post-Lethal Weapon oeuvre.
Second is Willis, who, gratifyingly, has grasped the fact that audiences will continue to tolerate ageing action stars only if they accept the ravages of time with good grace, embrace their newfound crustiness and realise that just because they’re playing a ‘character part’ doesn’t mean they can’t still kick ass from time to time… Just as long as they throw us a little Danny Glover-style “I’m too old for this shit” self-deprecation along the way. Thus, with his gammy leg, crisis-point hairline, fried-egg eyes and dyspeptic conscience, Willis’ turn is his most
credible performance in years.
Third is a satisfying answer to the question, “What the hell happened to David Morse?”, that most dependably stable
of supporting players who appeared to have taken a powder after 2000’s crappy kidnap thriller Proof Of Life (not that anyone would blame him if he had). He’s back with a vengeance here as the kind of menacingly soft-spoken career cop, cancerous with corruption, that no gritty policier worth its salt can live without.
Then there’s rapper-turned-actor Mos Def, proving his chops yet again by opting for a character interpretation that, initially, stirs uncomfortable memories of Adam Sandler in Little Nicky but which, against the odds, grows on us as inexorably as it does on Willis’ worldweary curmudgeon — quite a feat, as anyone who saw Little Nicky will confirm.
But above all, this movie’s appeal rests on its not overreaching its grasp. You’d hardly call it a modest undertaking — another treat is the authentic Lower Manhattan locations, which don’t come cheap — but it has a sense of proportion. Donner is content to execute a twist on the buddy-cop formula, rather than break his neck trying to reinvent it. And in that, 16 Blocks goes the distance.
A solid, bare-knuckle action-thriller that avoids most of the genres clichés and boasts a commendably dishevelled performance from Willis, as a washed-up NYPD flatfoot dissolving in self-loathing.