16 Blocks runs on a simple premise of moving someone from point A to point B. To craft an interesting film around it, Richard Wenk creates a wonderful back-story that pushes generally dry scenes of dialogue further. Richard Donner directs with a slight dose of Lethal Weapon injected to keep the tone occasionally light to offset some ugly scenarios.
While Bruce Willis is stuck in a cliché-riddled role as a drunken, down on his luck cop named Jack Mosley, he's still allowed to shine. It's a quiet character, drastically different from the man he's trying to protect, Eddie Bunker (rapper Mos Def). Mosley is given a simple task in escorting Bunker 16 blocks to a courthouse where he's set to testify in a murder case.
Set in the morning hours in New York. this prevents a gaping plot hole from surfacing and keeps the action tense. Mosley is quiet, while Bunker is loud and constantly talking. While a set up for a buddy movie, this is hardly a new Lethal Weapon sequel. Characters are beautifully rendered through standard conversations. It's a natural progression to the story, making those final moments come together in a way that crafts an entertaining story.
Action is spread thin throughout the film. Going in expecting massive shootouts will only lead to disappointment. This is a drama with a solid sense of emotion for both main characters. David Morse is perfectly cast as the villain of the piece, with his character's sly, cocky attitude switching to cold and scared as his plan begins to collapse.
Mos Def is the film's breaking point. Either you're going to accept his high pitched and forced voice or it will destroy the film in the opening 10 minutes. It's a shame as his performance is flawless. The fast talking yet never too serious Bunker is a great role for Def to play.
16 Blocks is a fun ride, with a smart script and believable performances from all those involved. There's a strong sense of tension throughout, and the few shootouts are better because of it. Aside from Mos Def apparently taking voice lessons from Mike Tyson, 16 Blocks is spot on.