Once in awhile a film comes along of unparalleled importance, a movie that transcends the bounds of the normal theatrical experience. A film whose singular wit and charm, comic timing and acting prowess are a testament to stellar screenwriting and undeniable direction. A movie which isn’t a movie at all, but instead a magnificent social experience that permanently marks the days that come after. “16 Blocks” is not that movie.
Director Richard Donner has had just a wee bit of success in the cop genre with that little engine-that-could called “Lethal Weapon 1-4.” This film lacks the personality of the “Weapon” series even if it rivals it in star power. Donner’s directing credits include comedy classics “Scrooged” and “The Toy” as well as a number of fruitful collaborations with “Weapon” star Mel Gibson “Conspiracy Theory” and “Maverick.” This isn’t Donner best work, but its not bad, in fact anyone with a “Law and Order” fancy should feel right at home in this episode. It is a typical tale of corruption in the New York City police department and of the unlikely hero who chooses to save a stranger and ends up saving himself.
Hard as he may try to diversify, Bruce Willis is the consummate conflicted cop. Here we find him as Jack Mosley. Aging and addled by booze, Mosley is always one step ahead of the bad guys and proves even through the permanent fuzz of “Southern Comfort” he is mighty handy with guns. Willis has made some damn fine action thrillers in his time. One of which, “Die Hard With a Vengeance” costarring Samuel L. Jackson, had an astonishingly similar premise: drunken cop fallen from grace attempts to beat the clock and get from point to point in New York City before the shit hits the fan. “16 Blocks” lacks the suspense of the third installment of “Die Hard” and the action is further deflated by the slightly unlikeable characters and their so-so romp through Manhattan.
The saving grace of this picture, and frankly many others, is David Morse, a superb character actor who always manages to make whatever film he’s in more than it would be without him. In “16 Blocks” Morse plays Mosley’s (Willis) former partner Frank Nugent, the head of the crooked monster attempting to snuff out Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) before he testifies against them. From “Green Mile” to “12 Monkeys” and “Dancer in the Dark” Morse has flown under the radar right in front of our noses. Never distracting and always captivating, Morse has finally achieved proper billing as a film star. It is exciting to see his name in the trailer for “16 Blocks” right behind Willis. No longer the bridesmaid, its time Morse became a name we recognize along side the Gary Oldmans and Liam Neesons of the world, destined to provide the backbone of the pictures he’s in.
“16 Blocks” is hardly revolutionary, but it’s not without entertainment value. If you are looking for big bang for your buck, you should probably rent “Lethal Weapon” or “Die Hard,” but if you are in the mood for a well made police drama with trusty stars and no frills, this is your move.