Out of shape, hung over and limping around on a bad leg, Detective Jack Mosley is biding time, babysitting crime scenes, clocking in, clocking out and trying to stay out of trouble until he can collect his pension. That all changes when he's assigned the seemingly simple task of transporting a fast-talking prosecution witness to the grand jury 16 blocks away. Trouble is, Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) is about to testify against a cop, and there's a thick blue line standing in their way.
Thematically about a person's ability to change, "16 Blocks" hinges on character and in that regard gratifies: With zero background information, Mosley's story is immediately clear, even if details aren't, through Willis' sluggish gait and droopy eyes that broadcast mental gears hard at work piecing together the situation. Meanwhile, Def has developed and maintains a nasal-toned nonstop chatter that's alternately grating and lulling -- to the point where even the audience is telling him to shut up. It's when this kid stops talking that Mosley first guesses that something's wrong. And David Morse, as Mosley's former partner and nemesis Frank Nugent, assumes a confident swagger that marks a refreshing departure from the warmth he more often exudes.
Deftly directed by action veteran Richard Donner, "16 Blocks" drops the viewer directly into the action, which relies on the element of surprise -- no small feat given today's genre-savvy audiences. Particularly well executed is the film's first shootout -- like a rubberband, pulled back into slow motion as Mosley absorbs the scenario in front of him until the tension is released, plunging the scene into chaos. A third-act plot twist is unexpected, if not quite credible. Starring Bruce Willis, Mos Def and David Morse. Directed by Richard Donner. Written by Richard Wenk. Produced by Jim Van Wyck, John Thompson, Arnold Rifkin, Avi Lerner and Randall Emmett. A Warner Bros. release. Action-thriller. Rated PG-13 for violence, intense sequences of action and some strong language. Running time: 101 min