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16 Blocks


16 Blocks
2006, USA
Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Richard Wenk
Starring Bruce Willis, Mos Def, David Morse, Jenna Stern

I broke a promise today. Long ago, I swore that should I ever again stumble upon a film that uses a hand-held tape recorded as a deus ex machina plot device, I would douse myself in gasoline and self-immolate to protest both lazy screenwriters and the effect Murder She Wrote has had on popular culture. Yet today, I sat through 16 Blocks, and still I live. Perhaps it was Mos Def’s charmingly idiosyncratic character. Perhaps it was the high-energy pacing. Or perhaps I slipped the roofie into the wrong large Pepsi, sacrificing a fun-filled evening with the girl I was babysitting in exchange for actually enjoying a movie for once . Regardless of what caused it, after 16 Blocks was done, I very strangely didn’t feel like ending my life in a fury of accelerant-fueled fire.

Director Richard Donner is no stranger to action movies. He is, however, a stranger to good action movies. Those wishing to advance Lethal Weapon as evidence to the contrary should take a long, hard look at Mel Gibson’s lengthy mullet before making any hasty decisions. To his credit, Donner has apparently learned a thing or two in the past few years, namely that people enjoy watching 24. 16 Blocks owes a great deal to that show, taking place in real time as it follows the attempts of a detective to get a hunted witness 16 blocks from a police station to a courthouse. Bruce Willis plays the detective, a tired, drunken old man who looks like he’s given up on life and liver, and he fits the role to a T. I think Willis is very good in this film, but I can’t be sure because I’ve never seen that happen before. What I am sure of is that 16 Blocks is a ridiculous film, even as action movies go, but manages to distract with original, captivating performances and a lightening quick pace, like a David Blaine TV special or Billy Graham.

Which explains why the movie was so unsuccessful. Nobody wants to see an original action movie, even if it is just as unthreateningly stupid as the usual fare. 16 Blocks is an action movie without a love interest or a significantly large explosion, which is like a Martin Scorsese film without a redemption sub-text or a Harry Potter movie without a flamboyantly gay drama student in the audience. What the film does have is a lot of interesting characterization, which is no way to win an MTV Movie Award. Instead, 16 Blocks is destined to languish in the twilight zone between action and drama, rubbing shoulders with Heat and most late-period George Clooney pictures, and within spitting distance of Payback. And while cinematic purgatory may not seem like an ideal resting place for all eternity, it could be worse. You could be trapped in hell with Jessica Fletcher.

Al Kratina

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This review has been reprinted from The 16mm Shrine.