- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 2, 2006

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a buddy action movie in the “48 Hours” mold, so in that sense the new “16 Blocks” fills a void left by Eddie Murphy’s retirement from nonchildren’s fare. Too bad the movie begins as a gritty cop drama, only to find its soft center just when the action should be at its most frenzied.

Bruce Willis, ditching his shaven dome for a crown of brittle brown hair, is your boilerplate burned-out cop in the last ticks of a long day.

A superior forces his Detective Jack Mosley to make the day just a little longer. He must escort a witness named Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) 16 blocks to the downtown courthouse to testify before 10 a.m.

Sounds simple, even for a cop who sees no problem drinking the hard stuff at 8 a.m. With his sallow skin and eyes sagging under the weight of too many last calls, Mr. Willis looks every inch the boozy, bedraggled lifer.

Turns out the case Eddie is set to testify about might bring down some dirty cops, and said cops have no intention of letting him get to court on time.

The first sign of trouble is shot with a nifty 360 degree camera spin that leaves us as disoriented as Jack. The crooked cops are closing in on the detective and Eddie, and only Jack’s survival instincts spare them from a bloody end.

From there, it’s pure Hollywood confection as the detective and Eddie race around Manhattan with the bad cops in hot pursuit. Jack burrows deep to find his dormant police instincts, and Eddie’s nonstop banter and optimism resurrect the humanity the detective had long since lost.

The pair’s biggest concern is Frank Nugent (the perpetually unsung David Morse), Jack’s ex-partner and the leader of the wayward cop unit that will take the fall if Eddie blabbers.

And blabber he does — a nonstop barrage of chatter that drives Jack, and the rest of us, to distraction.

Director Richard Donner (“Superman,” the “Lethal Weapon” series) knows how to turn a few blocks of the Big Apple into a tense playground, but he’s done far better than this shallow chase flick.

Credit him with a crackling hostage set piece that takes some unexpected detours, and for staging gun battles that go down a little more plausibly than your average shoot’em-up.

What he can’t direct around is a story that loses its will just when its characters are finding theirs. Eddie’s high-pitch nasal delivery, which Mos Def strains to bring to life, grows tiresome long before he takes a turn toward being cuddly. When his Eddie professes his love of baking cakes, you can practically screen in your mind the inevitable scene when Jack receives a very special cake.

Much is made of second chances in “16 Blocks,” both for Jack and the embattled Eddie. What Mr. Donner could use is a new film to remind us of the premier director he once was.

**1/2

TITLE: “16 Blocks”

RATING: PG-13 (Action movie violence, mature situations and harsh language)

CREDITS: Directed by Richard Donner. Written by Richard Wenk. Original music by Klaus Badelt.

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes

WEB SITE: www2.warnerbros.com

/16blocks/index.html

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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