The director Richard Donner, veteran of years of TV series work before achieving big screen success with The Omen (1976), has made a few enjoyable movies — notably Scrooged (1988), starring Bill Murray in a raucous updating of A Christmas Carol, and Conspiracy Theory (1997), starring Mel Gibson and Julia Roberts in a romantic variation on a government-paranoia thriller — but 16 Blocks isn't one of them. It is, however, so conventional an example of the romance of redemption that I'd be tempted to show it in a film studies class, although I'd be hoping the students wouldn't like it.
Bruce Willis plays Jack Mosley, a New York City cop who, with his partner and others in the department, has crossed legal lines when "necessary" to get convictions. Jack is utterly demoralized by these corrupt practices — he shuffles through his work days, not bothering to disguise his drinking. Jack is such an open wreck he's now the guy they call in to babysit an inactive crime scene until the experts get there. (The last man out reminds Jack not to touch anything, and he doesn't once he's located the victim's booze and turned on the A/C.) Jack is on his way home one morning when he's assigned to take Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) from lock-up to the court house, a distance of 16 blocks, where Eddie is to testify before a grand jury.
This is more active duty than Jack is entrusted with anymore, but the cop who was supposed to do it got stuck in traffic. Long story short, Eddie is set to testify against a cop, and the dirty members of the force, fearing that what he says will bring them all down, have planned to kill him. The cop who got stuck in traffic was supposed to pull the trigger so at the last minute some hit men had to be rushed in.
What happens instead is that Jack, out of the loop, saves Eddie from the hit, and becomes the other cops' problem himself, though he doesn't realize it right away. In the first breathless moments after the shoot-out, Jack holes up in a bar with Eddie and calls for help. Frank Nugent (David Morse), Jack's former partner of 20 years, ostensibly comes to his aid, but when Frank unctuously says he'll take charge of Eddie and Jack can do what he usually does (i.e., look the other way and keep drinking), the worm that's been eating Jack's guts finally turns. Just as Eddie is about to be whacked by one of the cops, Jack shoots the shooter and takes off with the twice-rescued Eddie through the crowded downtown streets.