16 Blocks

(2006) ** 1/2 Pg-13
105 min. Warner Brothers. Director: Richard Donner. Cast: Bruce Willis, Dante 'Mos Def' Smith, David Morse, Jenna Stern, Tig Fong.

76-year-old director Richard Donner can still set pulses pumping. In the character-driven, pulp-action piece 16 Blocks, Donner orchestrates firecracker shootouts and vehicular mayhem while pressing lead actors Bruce Willis and Mos Def into the ol' chafing chemistry of the buddy movie.

Willis plays NYPD detective Jack Mosley, a weary, heavy-lidded, potbellied drunk. One could call him hung-over if he weren't still drinking, but he finds his focus when shootouts erupt as he attempts to escort grand-jury witness Eddie Bunker (unfortunately overplayed by Mos Def) across Manhattan. Of the whiny, shambling Eddie, Jack says, "Life's too long, and guys like you make it even longer."

Of course, circumstances conspire to create a grudging respect between surly cynic Jack and Eddie, whose hope-springs-eternal attitude ("People can change," he insists) extends to his dream of opening a bakery. Richard Wenk's cliche-ridden screenplay (which has much in common with Clint Eastwood's much-maligned The Gauntlet) is a jerry-rigged story of mutual salvation, with Willis' sullied cop learning that people can change and redeeming himself by literally saving Eddie's life. It's all a bit much to hang on a comic-tinged thriller that's told mostly in real time.

It's not giving much away to add that the cop played by seedily typecast David Morse is troublesomely suspect in his motivation to corral the AWOL cop and his witness, yadda yadda yadda. The lazy characterizations are frequently obscured by the energy of the stars and director, but there's an even greater problem: the grabber premise of trying to evade a cordon of enemies to transport a man just 16 blocks runs low on ingenuity at the halfway point, bogging down in a too-familiar hostage standoff.

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