A by-the-numbers thriller starring Bruce Willis and Mos Def multiplies into an entertaining adventure.
One reason filmmaker Richard Donner has had such a long and lucrative career is that he doesn't try to reinvent the wheel. Instead, he takes an old, proven wheel, dips it in shiny chrome plating, slaps on a fancy new hubcap and stands back to watch people admire his work.
He's done it again in "16 Blocks." This action-thriller is so predictable that you probably could outline the plot after watching a 30-second TV spot. But it's so entertaining you won't budge from your seat until the final bullet has flown.
Donner uses the formula that served him so well for the "Lethal Weapon" movies: Find a plot that stretches credibility a bit, but not so much that it becomes a fantasy, throw in an action scene every reel and cast odd-couple protagonists whose comical interactions carry us through the soft spots in the story.
Bruce Willis and Mos Def star. Both play caricatures, but they do it so well that we don't care.
Willis is Jack Mosley, a worn-out cop who could be an older version of half a dozen of the kick-butt heroes the actor has played over the years. There was a time when Jack was obsessed with anyone on the wrong side of the law. These days all he's interested in is the booze on the other side of the bar.
Jack is the guy who's assigned the nuisance work that his supervisors don't want more valuable detectives to waste their time on. So he's stuck with escorting a witness 16 blocks from the jail to the courthouse.
Eddie Bunker is a petty crook who has agreed to testify to a grand jury in exchange for dropped charges on a parole violation. It should be a routine assignment, but Jack quickly learns there are some nasty people intent on keeping Eddie from the witness stand.
Played by Mos Def ("A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"), Eddie is the most entertaining bad guy since Jack Nicholson played the Joker in "Batman." He's a motormouth, even when people are shooting at him. Every hiding spot Jack finds is compromised by Eddie's incessant monologue. The inconsequential nature of most of what he blabs about -- he's obsessed with birthday cakes -- adds to Jack's exasperation.
This is a typical Donner project with the focus on action, action and more action, but he employs a technique usually not associated with this genre. Once Jack and Eddie leave the jail, the story is told almost in real time.
Donner also leaves the door open for those who want to give the movie a deeper reading. You can see it as an inspiring saga about a man who embraces the chance to atone for a life that has strayed from its once-noble path. Or you can see it as just an entertaining shoot-'em-up. Either way, it works.
*** out of four stars
Rating: PG-13; violence and profanity.
Jeff Strickler 612-673-7392