Thursday, March 02, 2006

16 Blocks

Director: Richard Donner
Screenplay by Richard Wenk
Warner Bros.

Hard to believe, but director Richard Donner is nearly 76 and he's still making action pictures. But like most guys who made their mark in the 70's (and his was The Omen and especially Superman) there seems to be an out-of-touch feel to their work. Donner has made 4 movies in a row that I consider terrible--Assassins, Conspiracy Theory, Lethal Weapon 4, and Timeline. Some might even include Maverick and Lethal Weapon 3 in a larger streak, but I thought those had their moments. But Woody Allen proved last year, and Robert Altman has on a couple of occasions, that old guys can still bring it.

In this, Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) has been assigned to escort witness Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) to a courthouse so he can testify in a big case involving dirty cops. Of course, the dirty cops don't want him to make that appointment. Frank Nugent (David Morse), the head of a band of bad police, catch up to Jack and want to kill Eddie. But Jack doesn't let them, to the surprise of his old buddy Frank, considering that Eddie is one of those guys who's always in trouble with the law--why protect a guy like that?

It's a series of escapes from there--lots of dead ends that require brain skills to get out of them. But there are only a couple of escapes that are fun--most of them involve running away and hoping not to get shot. And the movie could have used a sort of prologue so that the action didn't have to stop for exposition. There are two scenes in here that are standoffs, and Frank takes these times to hash out the past with Jack. They are important to the story, and I know that screenwriter Wenk and director Donner wanted to get straight into the plot, but I think we would have been better off seeing that exposition as action at the beginning of the film. There's another reason they didn't do that, which I won't go into here, but there are ways to film such scenes without giving a secret away. Also, like many movies of this type, you get the feeling the whole situation could have ended in the first ten minutes, but movie conventions stretch it out to a couple of hours.

It's decent. You won't be throwing stuff at the screen afterwards. Bruce Willis is good, and Mos Def is necessarily annoying--a performance that grows on you as the film progresses--which means a second viewing would be needed to totally appreciate it. But use caution. Definitely be in the mood to watch this.


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