Published Mar 01, 2006High concept action is tricky territory. For example, what if there's a bomb on a bus and if that bus goes under 55 MPH the bus explodes? Without the tight editing and a sharp screenplay, Speed could have been, well, Speed 2: Cruise Control. And for every Speed there are a dozen Speed 2s (Cellular, Chill Factor, etc.).
The latest from Richard Donner, 16 Blocks, falls somewhere in between, but probably closer to the latter than one would have hoped. Donner, a veteran action director with a few somewhat admirable hits under his belt (Lethal Weapon 1,2, and maybe 3), fails to live up to any credibility he still had after the Banderas-Stallone collaboration that was Assassins.
Regarding the concept, 16 Blocks comes up with a doozy: a cop (Bruce Willis) has to take a high profile witness/criminal (Mos Def) on a 16-block trip across Manhattan. Their journey begins at the police station and they have 90 minutes to make it to the courthouse or his testimony won't fly. What's more is there is a very bad man (David Morse) hot on their trail who does not want our boys to complete the journey.
The premise is ripe for high tension, and Donner certainly pulls off a number of scenes that leave you panting. But overall, the film falls short. Willis and Def's characters are generally big balls of clichés, and the predictability of their actions gets really annoying (case in point: having just met at the beginning of the film, the two act like lifelong friends by the time their 90-minute journey comes to an end).
Def, by far one of the most talented rapper-turned-actors, does his best to work above the material, but Willis fails to make his character little more than cardboard. When all is said and done, their performances don't matter anyway, as it feels like we've walked these 16 blocks before. And the truth is, we have. Action screenplays aren't what they used to be, and the fact that 16 Blocks leaves one yearning for the halcyon days when Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock drove that bus isn't a good sign. (Warner)