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From Lethal Weapon director Richard Donner comes "a hard-to-beat thriller" (Gene Shalit, Today/NBC-TV). Bruce Willis hits the mark as Jack Mosley, a broken-down New York City police detective assigned to escort a petty criminal (Mos Def) from the precinct to the courthouse. The seemingly simple 16-block journey becomes a test of character for them when Jack's ex-partners attempt to stop them.. Its' the gripping story of how two men change each other during a tense 118-minute struggle between life and death.
For more about 16 Blocks and the 16 Blocks Blu-ray release, see 16 Blocks Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on June 22, 2008 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Bruce Willis, Mos Def, David Morse, Jenna Stern, Casey Sander, David Zayas
Director: Richard Donner
» See full cast & crew
16 Blocks Blu-ray Review
Is '16 Blocks' worth the journey?
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, June 22, 2008
I was trying to do a good thing.
16 Blocks, a 2006 action/drama film directed by Richard Donner (Lethal Weapon) and starring Bruce Willis (Tears of the Sun) and rapper Mos Def (Be Kind Rewind), plays out like a poor man's version of a Die Hard film, most aptly compared to the third in that franchise, Die Hard With A Vengeance. The main connection, obviously, is Willis, once again portraying a washed up, slovenly cop who finds himself traversing New York City with a tagalong who becomes a powerful ally by the end. This movie isn't quite as good as any of the Die Hard films (with the possible exception of Die Harder), but I'll give it one thing: it has heart. It manages to get noticeably better and far more interesting by the final act with some real character development, interesting plot twists, a fairly high level of palpable tension.
Detective Jack Mosley (Willis) is a has-been cop who appears as if he hasn't slept in three days or drank anything less than 80 proof alcohol in a week. Hindered by a limp and a shot-up hand, he's the odd-man out on the force, at one point chosen for a job babysitting a crime scene because he "isn't needed." About to clock out one morning and return home to further wallow in his misery, Mosley is stopped and ordered to transport a two-bit criminal named Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) 16 blocks to his court appearance in 118 minutes, which puts the time schedule slightly askew in a 102 minute film. When Mosley stops at a liquor store for a drink and a packet of Advil, he foils an attempt on Bunker's life, killing one suspect and chasing off another. He takes Bunker to a local bar and calls for assistance. His friend and former partner, Det. Frank Nugent (David Morse, Disturbia), arrives with several other officers and plainly informs Mosley that the criminal he is transporting is much more than he seems. He's a witness set to testify against several corrupt officers, including Nugent, and Mosley is asked to cooperate in a staged shootout and the death of Bunker. Forced to either conspire with his friend or save an innocent life, Mosley chooses the latter and escapes with Bunker, beginning a real-time chase to safely traverse 16 blocks to get Bunker to the courthouse on time with much of the NYPD in pursuit.
16 Blocks is a movie that had to work very hard to earn my respect. Not only am I an established Bruce Willis fan, but I also like David Morse, and by the end of the movie, came to admire Mos Def's acting ability as well as the character he portrays in this film (more on him in a moment). 16 Blocks began with a most gloomy atmosphere. The character is a slovenly drunk with a screen presence about as engaging as an unsharpened #2 pencil lying in a darkened desk drawer. The look of the movie itself reflects that feel; it's a wholly drab, uninteresting, depressing, and unsettling look. To top it all off, the first half of the movie moves by incredibly slowly, so much so that I struggled to resist the temptation to put my computer aside, lie down on my couch, and fall asleep. Somehow, someway, 16 Blocks manages to become a pretty darn good movie by the time all is said and done. It gains steam, intrigue, and perhaps most importantly, heart, as it moves along, a phenomenon not often seen anymore when so many movies seem to start off well enough and fade near the end.
Much to my surprise, Mos Def proves to be the shining light in this film, turning in a surprisingly solid performance. He doesn't best the legendary Willis in pure acting ability, but he's definitely on the same playing field. A scene where he briefly turns the tables on Detective Nugent in chapter 14 is one of the best scenes in the movie. Mos Def's wisecracking, somewhat annoying persona changes on a dime as he delivers a heartfelt, real-feeling, and decidedly tense scene that I believe to be the turning point in the film, not only thematically, but in feel as well. From there on out, 16 Blocks becomes a good movie, almost making the drag that is the first half of the film worth the effort. Mos Def's next major scene, where he discusses birthdays and cakes, is equally magnificent. Willis and Morse are both solid as well. It may seem like a small detail, but the decision to show the Willis character with a mustache sets him apart from his other roles, notably that of John McClane, so that 16 Blocks doesn't wholly feel like the aforementioned "poor man's Die Hard." His character is not a unique one in cinema, the drunken and depressed man facing adversity and overcoming the odds, but because of the similarities to the pace of the film and the character of John McClane in Vengeance, the filmmakers smartly altered Willis' look, and for the purpose of this film, they nailed it.
16 Blocks Blu-ray, Video Quality
16 Blocks traverses onto Blu-ray in a remarkably average 2.40:1, 1080p high definition transfer from Warner Brothers. Fortunately, "average" is still fairly good, and 16 Blocks, amidst its decidedly bland appearance and uninteresting visual style, does make for a decent viewing experience for fans of this movie. The image has a soft look to it with dull, lifeless colors, but this seems to be the director-intended look for the film. Tan and gray hues permeate many scenes in the film. Colors are anything but eye-popping, certainly duller than those in another film I recently screened and reviewed, The Pursuit of Happyness. Even brighter outdoor scenes, of which there are several near the end of the movie, don't offer colors that jump off the screen. Detail remains moderately high, but there is a flatness to the image that adds to the dull nature of the film. Look at the old yellow phone Mosley uses in chapter 13. We can see every bit of grime and dirt on it, and it is certainly a phone I'd rather not put to my ear unless the circumstances were life and death, as they were in this film. As the hot, long, arduous, and deadly trip across 16 city blocks progresses, we become privy to the accumulated beads of sweat, dirt, and other tell-tale signs of despair and exhaustion on actor's faces, clothing, and the like. Flesh tones appear a bit darker than expected, but this is likely, once again, due to the stylized and obscure look to the film. I noted a random white speckle here and there on the print but no other discernible flaws of that nature. Film grain is not visible over every frame, but it's there, mostly visible in the film's darkest of scenes. Speaking of dark scenes, black levels fare well here, too. 16 Blocks is certainly no reference-grade disc, but it does make the grade as a decent, but definitely underwhelming, high definition experience, especially compared to the best of the best visual Blu-ray discs available today, like Saawariya and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe.
16 Blocks Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Just as understated and dull as the picture is the film's soundtrack, presented here with no lossless or uncompressed audio option, offering listeners only a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Not much of a rear channel presence is to be heard during the more mundane scenes where just a hint of atmospherics are only occasionally heard. The action sequences, obviously, pick up in intensity and offer some discrete sound effects scattered here and there in the back left and right channels and across the front soundstage. Gun shots ring out surprisingly true with an excellent presence that is neither too loud nor unrealistic nor phony nor trumped up for some slick movie sound effects. Shots in tight, close-quarters fare especially well with ricochets, impacts, bangs, and the thuds of 9mm rounds, as well as the sound of brass dropping to the ground, sounding absolutely first-rate on this mix. Unfortunately, other than the movie's few shootout scenes, there is very little going on in this track that involves much more than the center channel speaker. Music bleeds through to the back on occasion, but it's a strain to hear it. Sometimes I felt like I had to get my ear to within inches of one of the back speakers to even realize it was there. Dialogue sounded a bit harsh in a few spots as well. This lossy mix is certainly not going to convert anyone to Blu-ray, but fans of the movie and established format adopters and supporters probably won't find too much to complain about when it comes to this track in the grand scheme of things.
16 Blocks Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
16 Blocks makes the rounds on Blu-ray with a disappointing selection of extra features. First up are several deleted scenes (480p, 19:51) with an introduction and commentary by director Richard Donner and writer Richard Wenk. We see Donner and Wenk appear every now and then in a small picture-in-picture window over the bottom right hand side of the screen. Next is an alternate ending to the film (480p, 6:39) that again features an introduction by Donner and Wenk discussing the differences and the reasons why the change was made. Finally, the film's theatrical trailer (480p, 2:19) concludes this all-too-short set of extras.
16 Blocks Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
16 Blocks seems like the little movie that could. At the end of the day, it's not much more than a standard-fare action/drama flick with a few nice performances, and it's hardly a memorable picture. Nevertheless, every time I watch it, I cannot help but to be drawn in by the end of the movie, despite a rather tedious first half that screams for the disc to be ejected or the channel changed in favor of something else. What starts as a meandering, lifeless cop drama becomes a tense, well-played, and well-directed film that almost has the audience forgetting the mediocrity of the first half of the movie. Unfortunately, this Blu-ray edition of 16 Blocks is as forgettable as the first half of the movie contained on it. Sporting an average video presentation, no lossless soundtrack, and only a handful of extras, this is a disc for only the most ardent of fans or Blu-ray collectors/completists who want to pick this one up during a sale.
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