16 Blocks
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Richard Donner
scr Richard Wenk
with Bruce Willis, Mos Def, David Morse, Jenna Stern, Casey Sander, Brenda Pressley, Cylk Cozart, David Zayas, Robert Racki, Patrick Garrow, Sasha Roiz, Conrad Pla
release US 3.Mar.06, UK 28.Apr.06
06/US Alcon 1h42

Eight down, eight to go: Willis and Def

willis def morse

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16 Blocks There's a refreshing layer of subtext that lifts this fairly gimmicky thriller into a much more interesting film than we expect it to be. It combines the brisk simplicity of Phone Booth with the provocative depth of Changing Lanes.

Jack Mosley (Willis) is a flabby, middle-aged detective who always gets the worst assignments. After a long nightshift, he's asked to take a prisoner, Eddie (Def), to a courthouse to testify against some dirty cops. The problem is that these dirty cops, led by Mosley's lifelong partner (Morse), will do everything to stop that from happening. So a simple 16-block journey becomes an epic battle for survival, and Mosley discovers a stubborn unwillingness to just take it lying down.

Donner is a seasoned director with the ability to go against the tired Hollywood grain and create something that's actually intriguing for a change. He resists the temptation of churning non-stop mayhem and allows the characters to deepen in frequent quiet stretches. All of which, of course, makes the action scenes that much more exciting--especially a tense standoff in a bus. The plot unfurls almost in real time, with fascinating character interaction followed by sudden explosive bursts of violence.

Willis is also allowed to remain exhausted all the way through--he doesn't suddenly tap into hidden Die Hard energy reserves. The result is a character who's both extremely believable and also easy to identify with. And his interaction with the likeable but too-quirky Def sputters and develops properly, resisting buddy movie cliches at every turn. Morse has the thankless villain role, but even he manages to sometimes rise above his dull, one-dimensional character.

This is such solid filmmaking that even the plot improbabilities and too-steady pace don't ruin it. There are several subtle twists that cleverly shift the story into new directions, even if it can't resist a corny final showdown. The action is edgy and thrilling, and the currents of introspective resonance actually ask us to think about how we look at right and wrong, and the choices we've made along the way. Not bad for a straightforward thriller.

cert 12 themes, violence, language 30.Mar.06

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2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall