Fast-paced, tense and surprisingly gritty at times, Richard Donner's 16 Blocks (2006) doesn't always manage to escape the trappings of the modern American action film. Sure, it manages to score a number of brownie points along the way, offering strong performances, plenty of surprises and a dose of hard-hitting action that defies the film's modest PG-13 rating. Simly put: there's a lot to like here, especially the first time around. Even so, Donner's film is still barely a cut above most of what passes for popcorn entertainment these days. It's fun, brisk and exciting, but slightly forgettable once the credits roll.
First, a bit more about what helps 16 Blocks achieve moderate success. Bruce Willis, though a near-staple of straight-laced action films these days, is surprisingly good as Jack Mosley, a washed-up cop whose main job is to complete tasks that no one else wants. This brings us to Eddie Bunker, the man who Mosley is assigned to transport from police custody to testify in count, played with conviction by the talented Mos Def (Bamboozled, Monster's Ball). It's a bit removed from the typical "odd couple" pairing found in the action genre (including Donner's own Lethal Weapon films), as Willis and Mr. Def are somewhat unsavory but still easy to root for. David Morse also stars as Frank Nugent, a corrupt policeman who stands in the way of Mosley and Bunker's seemingly short trip. He's not alone, of course.
Borrowing lightly from the fast-paced, near real-time format of films like Phone Booth and shows like 24, 16 Blocks doesn't take long to get moving; even better, Donner's film rarely lets up during its lean running time of just over 90 minutes. Despite clinging to a few long-standing action film clichés along the way, those who appreciate the genre will find the film easy to get behind...though it still has difficulty standing out from the crowd.
Basically, what kills some of the suspense found in 16 Blocks is the familiarity of the story and its execution. Many action film buffs have already seen "corrupt cop" movies of varying degrees, so it's hard to be all that surprised with what our protagonists are up against. The plot itself is reminiscent of older films like The Narrow Margin (1952), Midnight Run (1988) and, to a greater extent, Clint Eastwood's The Gauntlet (1977)---so right from the start, 16 Blocks has a number of faults stacked against it. Unfortunately, it doesn't always manage to rise above them. We're left with a film that's easy to get lost in---depending on your ability to suspend disbelief, of course---yet 16 Blocks is equally easy to forget once it's over. It's not a bad film, all things considered, just one that begs for a few minor improvements.
The DVD presentation from Warner Bros. is about on par with the film itself; entertaining on the surface but not as involving as it could've been. With that said, the technical presentation of this disc is impressive enough---and word has it that the HD-DVD release of 16 Blocks falls on the same day. Either way, the film may not be enough to warrant a blind buy, but it's still decent enough to warrant a closer look. Let's see how this release stacks up, shall we?
Quality Control Department
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and enhanced for widescreen displays, 16 Blocks features a generally washed-out and muted color palette that looks very clean and clear. Additionally, there are no digital problems (edge enhancement, etc.) to speak of, rounding out the visual presentation quite nicely. The Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround mix (available in English or French) is equally impressive, boasting fine clarity and a strong atmosphere. English, Spanish and French subtitles are available during the main feature only, as well as Closed Captioning for the hearing impaired.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The basic animated menus (seen above, presented in 1:78:1 anamorphic widescreen) offer simple layout and navigation, though they're a bit generic in design. This 102-minute film has been divided into 25 chapters, while no layer change was detected during playback. This one-disc release is housed in a black keepcase and includes no inserts.
The tepid box office performance of 16 Blocks didn't keep Warner from skimping on the extras...oh wait, actually it did. Leading things off is a SHOCKING Alternate Ending (according to the front cover) which offers a slightly darker closing sequence, though I prefer the ending they stuck with. Available with or without commentary from director Richard Donner and writer Richard Wenk, this "What if?" can be viewed on its own (6:39) or as part of the film via seamless branching. On a related note, we also get a collection of Deleted Scenes (8 clips, 19:48 total) with forced commentary by Donner and Wenk (what's up with that?). Unlike the alternate ending commentary, the two are a bit more descriptive about why these scenes weren't included in the final cut of the film. Closing things out is the film's Theatrical Trailer (2:17), rounding out a decent but all-too-brief collection of supplements.
All things considered, 16 Blocks delivers a potent amount of action and suspense in a small package, but a few small tweaks would've made it a more worthwhile effort. Those who can suspend disbelief should enjoy what Donner has brought to the screen, though Warner's DVD efforts could've been a bit more substantial. The technical presentation certainly carries its own weight, but the relatively short list of bonus features only covers the bare minimum. Fans of the film should enjoy the DVD, while all other interested parties should give it a weekend look first. Mildly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, general debauchery, and writing things in third person.