Living in one of the most congested traffic areas in the country, I know what true gridlock is like. It's the type that's more than just an irritant or something that will make you late for your destination. Instead, it gets under your skin to the point of making your blood nearly boil as you sit in near motionless traffic with views of other vehicles stuck in the same as far as the eye can see, with seemingly little to no hope of ever getting out of it.
Of course, you finally do, but while in the midst of it all, and with lots of time to kill, you can't help but notice the lapses in logic and smarts that are the culprit in stymieing your forward momentum. And that's all without a chatterbox for a travel-mate or the police trying to hurry you along -- into the grave -- in what amounts to conspiratorial gridlock.
All of which, appropriately enough, brings us to this week's release of "16 Blocks." A fairly engaging thriller despite the fact that it never really gets anywhere, the film sports a loquacious character that might have some viewers beating their heads on any surface hard enough to do some good. And it's filled with so many pothole type lapses in logic and common sense that you, if like me, might have a hard time just sitting back and enjoying the ride.
Working from a script by Richard Wenk, veteran director Richard Donner ("Superman," the "Lethal Weapon" films) is going for a nearly real-time, edge of your seat, urban thriller. The basic premise is fairly simple and straightforward. A burned-out cop (convincingly portrayed by Bruce Willis) must transport a talkative petty con (Mos Def with an initially off-putting and extremely affective vocal sound and delivery) the titular distance to the courthouse. But a bunch of bad cops (led by David Morse in slightly more than one-dimensional mode) don't want that to happen (since the witness' testimony will be against them).
Accordingly, they try to stop the unlikely duo that, in turn, attempts to avoid them and traverse (on foot, since the roads are jammed) the required distance in a certain amount of time. Aside from a few middle to late in the chase revelations, that's really about all there is. Therefore, the film is comprised of Willis and Def's characters running through and/or hiding in various parts of Chinatown (streets, stores, apartments, rooftops, etc.) while the bad guys try to find and/or kill them.
Donner does keep things moving at a fairly good clip, and considering his work on the "Lethal Weapon" movies, he obviously has a track record in creating engaging and likable if mismatched character pairings. In what's either a riff on those films' characters or just a bit of coincidence, he and Willis have the latter's character essentially playing the Danny Glover part (tired and "too old for this s***"), while Def does a spin on Willis' formerly high-strung and occasionally chatterbox characters.
There are decent amounts of comedic relief between them (to offset the otherwise nonstop action) and while I initially did not like the rapper-turned actor's affected performance (a weird, nasally and seemingly a bit slow character), he did grow on me somewhat (just as occurs with the tired and hung-over cop) as the story progresses.
While that character and Def's performance might be issues for some viewers, the logic potholes in Wenk's script drove me crazy to the point of distraction. It's never a good thing when a viewer is removed from the proceedings by something that doesn't make sense, but that occurs multiple times here. Since the film pretty much just follows the same pattern of run, hide and escape, there's plenty of time to notice the story problems.
For instance, if all of the bad cops wanted Eddie dead so badly, they certainly could have come up with easier, probably more effective and certainly less public ways of dealing with the matter. Similarly, there are many opportunities for Mosley to notify the courthouse officials and/or press about what's occurring to give them more time and/or leverage in dealing with the bad guys. I realize some viewers won't care and will just go along for the ride and that's fine. But as a former aspiring screenwriter, these sorts of problems get under my skin and stop my forward momentum of being engaged just as much as bumper to bumper traffic does in real life.
And the remedy for all of those plot holes and more would have been as easy as a few script tweaks. They could have explained why this or that didn't happen or can't now (such as the press, having been burned before by the cop, no longer believes him, or Eddie having connections to more powerful criminals that would make offing him in jail problematic, etc.). Those aren't perfect solutions (they're just off the top of my head), but I wish the filmmakers had addressed them and thus made the film smarter and more plausible.
Instead, they seem to enjoy moments of misdirection (of which there are several) where we think the "good guys" are going to be discovered and/or harmed, only to find - surprise, surprise -- that the cop and the con have outwitted the villains. The first such moment is somewhat fun, but by the time it's occurred several more times, we're already ahead of the filmmakers.
I also wished the overall story -- in terms of both the protagonists and antagonists' actions and attempts -- had been cleverer, thus making the cat and mouse game that much more enjoyable. After all, this isn't the first film to play with this sort of plot (Willis even did so, in more enjoyable form, in "Die Hard 3" that also took place in NYC where a certain distance had to be covered in a set amount of time).
If you don't care about plot holes and conveniences, lapses in logic, or Def's affected character portrayal, or can simply tune out any or all of those issues, you might just enjoy taking this cinematic ride that carries you through those "16 Blocks." On the other hand, you might just be like me and want to lay on the horn to get things moving like they should be.