Friday, March 31, 2006

16 Blocks - Movie Review

16 Blocks 2006

After our all too brief sojourn abroad, we felt it our duty to once again brave the withering banality of contemporary American films and venture forth to our local Cineplex to catch some of the flicks we had missed during our holiday. Turns out, we hadn’t missed much. Now, normally post-Oscar season, the major studios pretty much begin throwing out the celluloid garbage they had been sitting on all fall and winter long in the vain hopes of stealing a few dollars from the American public.

Congrats, you greedy bastards – you’ve really brought out the worst lately. After a cursory glance at the movie listings, we opted to go spend a couple of hours in the dark with our old pal, Bruce Willis. Yes, you heard that right. We have always considered Bruce to be a underrated actor who having taken the Harrison Ford career path to movie stardom via the regurgitation of police thrillers / action flicks / and the staple of the 90s lowest common denominator filmmaking – “the terrorist versus the rogue cop” flick. Well, his latest under the helm of Hollywood vet, Richard Donner may not be an arthouse flick but it does stack up surprisingly well compared with similar fodder.

16 Blocks” is yet another police action flick in which Bruce is forced to act his age and then some by portraying a down on his luck police detective, who is four bottles of rye past quitting time. He is rummy eyed, two day beard growthed and paunchy belly’d up to instantly bludgeon us over the head with characterization. We get it. He’s seen better days.

On the eve of an all night job where he is saddled with the very difficult police work of watching over two dead Puerto Rican drug dealers – (some guys have all the luck, frankly we didn’t view the opening scene as being such a visual indication of how low Bruce’s character has fallen – hell, we would have ordered pizza, turned on the boob tube and polished off the remnants of the Columbia’s finest left to float away on the kitchen table.) But we digress. As Bruce’s wearied and bloodshot eyed dick ambles back to the precinct, he finds himself saddled with the pedestrian job of shuttling a petty crook / informant to the court to testify prior to a 10am deadline. All told he has 118 minutes to drive the snitch 16 blocks.

And that’s it. That’s the story. In a nutshell. Of course life is not so simple for Bruce’s character, Jack Mosley. For you see, the informant portrayed by Mos Def as the chattiest informant in the history of movies, saddled with a nasally whine which would make Rosie Perez cringe is one much sought after stoolie. It seems every dirty cop behind the Blue Line is gunning for him, since he threatens to reveal some very nasty details of corruption amongst New York’s Finest. Corrupt cops! In New York City? Crazy Talk!

Before you can say “Die Hard IV”, Bruce and snitch are outrunning a plethora of sweaty filthy cops, and not a hot one in the bunch. Shame. Although, the film does benefit greatly by casting a very under sung actor, David Morse as the ne plus ultra in the much abused and overused “evil cop” vein. There really isn’t very much to surprise you in the plot or characterization departments, and really we’ve seen all this a million times over.

So why did we find ourselves enjoying this flick? Three reasons:

1. Bruce Willis. Who miraculously manages to find the best moments in a slightly battered and bruised and been there screenplay to flesh out a believable character. Seriously, the old geezer still has star quality to burn!

2. Richard Donner. The aforementioned veteran director whose prolific career beginning with television westerns in the late 50s, and who later soared thru the best comic-book-to-film adaptation ever – 1978s Superman”.

Sadly, Donner's career peaked early with two off kilter entries in his otherwise routine career.

The genre busting “Ladyhawke”- 1985 (a lovely-twisted-fantasy-swashbuckling-comedy-drama - although we could do without the 80s electronica / moog synthesizer score. Ugh.) and his quietest flick:

Inside Moves” from 1980, a solid and moving examination of the outcasts of modern society featuring a young David Morse. While some people may enjoy his extremely popular yet mind numbingly silly “Lethal Weapon” series, or have some sick fascination with the abysmal “The Goonies” – we will chalk it up to their childhood nostalgia. Trust us, “The Goonies” is an awful movie. Grow up, you slackers. It fairly shocked the hell out of us, that while "16 Blocks" may not be his best flick ever, it is by far the best Donner has pulled off in the past twenty years.

And finally, the third reason we enjoyed this film – 3. The Visual Storytelling. Chalk it up to Donner and his film editor, Steve Mirkovich who manage to bring it in at a well paced ninety nine minutes, and who blessedly demonstrate tact and discretion in explaining some slight twists and turns in purely visual terms. No heavy handed explanations for the peanut gallery. No time out for any “for those of you to stupid to get what just happened . . .” moments.

While this film is certainly not going to win any awards, well maybe a Golden Globe or People’s Choice – it never takes us for granted. Well, okay. Maybe once or twice. There was really no need for the whole “I dream of being a baker, someday” subplot. But, we’ll let it go by. And yes, Mos Def’s vocal pitch is three dog whines above most human beings tolerance level, but he is charismatic enough of an actor to pull it off in the end. So, if you’re really desperate for a moviegoing experience, and your boytoy is begging you to go see a Dick Flick, you could do far worse than “16 Blocks”. There. What a rave review, huh? Bless you all!

Directed by Richard Donner
Written by Richard Wenk

Bruce Willis as Jack Mosley
Mos Def as Eddie Bunker
David Morse as Frank Nugent
Jenna Stern as Diane
Cinematography by Glen MacPherson
Film Editing by Steve Mirkovich
Original Music by Klaus Badelt
Production Design by Arvinder Grewal
Art Direction by Brandt Gordon
Set Decoration by Steve Shewchuk
Costume Design by Vicki Graef


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