U.S. Release Date: March 3, 2006
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Director: Richard Donner
Writer: Richard Wenk
Producer: Randall Emmett, George Furla (executive), Jim Van Wyck
Composer: Klaus Badelt
Cast: Bruce Willis, Mos Def
Running Time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (violence, intense sequences of action, and some strong language)

Die Hard with Whine and Laughter
by Scott Holleran

With Bruce Willis as a Manhattan cop paired with a black man, a bus, explosions and bad cops, 16 Blocks sounds like Die Hard: With A Vengeance, Speed and Assault on Precinct 13 rolled into one.

That's close enough. But with Willis playing paunchy for grins, a seething villain (David Morse as an NYPD swine) and rapper Mos Def, this boilerplate cop-fest, directed by Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon), delivers character-based kicks.

Harking to the days when Chinatown's dragons came in on cue for 1970s police pictures, Mr. Donner deploys a standard plot purpose—get across town in time to save the day—sweetened by a recovery theme.

Looking haggard and with a protruding gut, Willis plays a gimpy alcoholic who huffs his way to another day of police drudgery, which on this day means escorting Def's yappy petty criminal, Eddie, uptown to testify against corrupt cops. Jack, who can barely make it a few blocks without his fix, is not interested in details. He hasn't a clue what's about to happen.

Led by Morse, New York's worst cops—there are good ones, too—don't anticipate that Jack will emerge from his stupor long enough to fend off a hit in broad daylight, which is not for a minute believable. The movie switches into a variation on the buddy picture that pits the doe-eyed thug with a heart of gold and the burned out cop against the whole blasted big city bureaucracy. From the moment scattershot Jack replaces the bottle with what remains of his brain, we're invested.

The return is a modest account, neatly directed by Mr. Donner, of man's ability to make himself over and, with bullets whizzing by in wave after wave of gunfights, it's a bumpy ride that sneaks in a few surprises and more than a few laughs.

As Eddie, a closet-case idealist in street clothes, Def adopts the most annoying nasal whine since the Nanny. But his funniest lines come through and, as anyone who has been on a subway with the homeboys knows, the whine's the real thing. Heck, half the kids working retail talk like this.

When scrawny Eddie finally corners Morse's bad cop, who's been dogging the pair for blocks, gunning for Eddie before he can tell his tale to the grand jury, Jack snaps Eddie—who's ready to unload his weapon—back to reality. A bond has formed.

For the most part, it holds. Jack lets Eddie prattle on about moving to Seattle and pursue his goal of baking birthday cakes. Eddie works in several one-liners about Jack's drinking and deficient knowledge of Japanese animation.

Slow in spots, with consistency errors, and a dark alley confrontation as familiar as Bruce Willis with a smirk, 16 Blocks is a matinee-ready show of humorous good will.

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