Stars solidify simple film

  • By Robert Horton / Herald Movie Critic
  • Thursday, March 2, 2006 9:00pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

One established star and a rising new one combine for a satisfying outing in “16 Blocks,” a cop movie just offbeat enough to stand out from the pack.

The stars in alignment are Bruce Willis, playing slightly over his age as New York cop Jack Mosley, a tired veteran who just wants to go home in the morning and crawl into a cheap bottle of Scotch. By chance, he’s assigned to escort a witness to a court appointment two hours hence.

This man is Edward Bunker (Mos Def), an apparent lowlife who turns out to be much cannier than he seems. Mosley’s job is to transport Eddie a grand total of 16 blocks to the courthouse, but their car is quickly ambushed in traffic.

Turns out Eddie is scheduled to testify about police corruption, and some crooked cops don’t want him to make his court date. Mosley, who’s been defeated in every way life can conspire to defeat him, would ordinarily turn his head and leave Eddie to become a mysterious statistic. For some reason, he doesn’t look away – and thereby hangs the drama of this redemption story.

This movie doesn’t have great style, or great scenery (anonymous Toronto locations mostly stand in for Manhattan). The action scenes are generic.

Yet the simple situation is very appealingly acted by Bruce Willis and Mos Def. Willis chooses bad movies with some regularity, but when he clicks into a character he reminds us he can be a swell movie star. Here he taps into Mosley’s depression by sagely underplaying it.

Satisfying: Nothing stupendous, but this tale of a weary cop (Bruce Willis) escorting a targeted witness (Mos Def) is greatly enhanced by the very appealing performances of the two actors. Richard Donner directed, just well enough to make the simple situation work.

Rated: PG-13 rating is for violence, language

Now showing: Alderwood, Everett 9, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Mountlake, Stanwood, Meridian, Metro, Oak Tree, Woodinville, Cascade Mall

Mos Def, who appears in his hip-hop persona in “Dave Chappelle’s Block Party,” has been distinguishing himself in a variety of acting roles, including terrific performances in “The Woodsman” and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Here he creates a fully imagined character from the get-go, a wheedling philosopher with a nasal voice who improbably worms his way into Mosley’s affections.

There’s a third wheel to this saga: Mosley’s old partner, played by David Morse. Morse always brings a smoldering intensity to his parts, and this one’s no exception; he’s especially good in the early scenes, when he condescends to Mosley with barely disguised disgust.

Director Richard Donner, who stumbled badly with his previous film “Timeline,” returns here to the competence he honed in countless TV series of the 1960s. His really good movies, such as “Superman” and “Lethal Weapon,” are looking like flukes, but at least he can steer a train without crashing it. “16 Blocks” has a reassuring old-fashioned smoothness to it – nothing stupendous, but fun on its own terms.

Bruce Willis and Mos Def star in “16 Blocks.”

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