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The Blu-ray format got off to a rocky start, but the problems that plagued the early releases have largely been solved. Now the biggest problem facing the format (aside from price) is the limited amount of software for that's available. With titles like Swordfish, Into the Blue, S.W.A.T., and The Punisher being some of the first films released, it seems to be the format of choice for mediocre action films. (Though I'll admit I'm being a bit harsh…there have been some excellent and diverse movies released on the format including Kiss Kiss Bang Bang and The Last Waltz, they seem to be in the minority.) Another movie to add to that category is the Richard Donner (Superman, Lethal Weapon)/Bruce Willis (Die Hard) flick, 16 Blocks. A minor hit last summer, this action film is mildly entertaining but fails to really impress.
Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is a burnt out cop working in NYC. His better days well behind him, Jack drinks on the job and tries to do as little as possible, just waiting until retirement rolls around. Just as he's about to finish up his night shift one morning, his boss hands him an assignment that's suited to his abilities: take a small time crook, Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) and deliver him to the courthouse to give a deposition to a grand jury. It's only 16 blocks, how hard can it be? Pretty difficult, as it turns out.
As Jack stops by a liquor store for a bottle on the way to the courthouse, two assassins try to kill Eddie. Mosley dispatches the killers and manages to get Eddie to a safe place and waits for backup, but when it arrives it things get worse. Eddie is going to testify against a group of crooked NYPD cops, a group that wants him dead, and if they have to kill Jack to get to Eddie, so be it. With the grand jury disbanding at 10:00 am, Jack has two hours to get Eddie to the courthouse, with the bulk of the police department after him.
While this film isn't a chore to sit through or really horrible, it never manages to rise about the level of average. A very formulistic film, viewers can pretty much predict what's going to happen based on how long the movie has run. The film starts out teaming up two opposites; a dour and gruff police officer with a sunny and upbeat three time loser with pie-in-the-sky dreams. It then proceeds to put them in 'dangerous situation #1', gives them time to get to know each other, 'dangerous situation #2, more personal revelations that bring them closer, followed by 'dangerous situation #3. Coincidence plays an important role in the film (especially during the hijacked bus scene) and the plot unrolls in a very predictable fashion up until the not-too-suspenseful climax.
One problem I had with the film is that I could never quite suspend my disbelief. Jack Mosley is a bitter disillusioned drunk who turns into an honest saint of a man and manages to fight off a dozen of his fellow officers. Viewers are just supposed to accept this transformation, and the weak explanation at the end seems like an afterthought. Eddie Bunker is also an unbelievable character, a career criminal who, just before the movie starts, has seen the light and has decided to go straight and open up a bakery. Yeah, that happens every day. Mos Def's nasally whine was really irritating too, and about half way through the film I started rooting for the bad guys to kill him just so he'd shut up.
Director Richard Donner didn't help the movie much either. A tried and true director who has been working since the early 60's, I was surprised that he didn't do a better job. He tried to make the film look cool and hip by the way it was filmed, but these flourishes only got in the way of the story. The camera was put at ground level and as an out of control bus goes careening through the streets for example. There was also a lot of excessive jerky camera movement during the chase scenes that got old really quick.
The ending didn't work for me either. Starting with one of the oldest clichés in Hollywood for getting evidence on the villain, they proceeded to make the finale much more convoluted and, well, silly, than it needed to be. Suffice to say that when Mosley gives his gun to the man that has been trying to kill him for the last two hours, reality has flown out the window.
The Blu-ray Disc:
This film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and the high definition image looks very good. This film has a grim and gritty feel to it and this disc does an excellent job of reproducing that without sacrificing detail. The image is sharp, even in the darker scenes and the blacks are solid and even. The film has a good amount of dimensionality with the foreground standing out nicely against the background. Colors were also reproduced nicely with the rather drab palate showing a good range of shades. In one or two scenes the skin tones looked just a tad too red, some shots of David Morse in the bar scene near beginning for example, but this was very minor. Being a recent release the print that was used is impeccable with no signs of dirt or damage. Overall this is a very nice looking disc.
Though there isn't a lossless audio track included with this disc, the film does have a 5.1 Dolby Digital mix that is good though not outstanding. Even though this is an action/suspense film, there are few big battle scenes, which is fine. This dialog driven film mixes the vocals very well with all of the ambient sounds found in a large city. It accurately reproduces the aural feeling of New York without sacrificing the ability to hear and understand the dialog. It isn't a very enveloping mix however. The rears are used only sparingly, even in the gun battles. This doesn't take away from the film, but it doesn't enhance it as much as a more active mix might. Sound fidelity is excellent however, with a nice dynamic range and good use of the .1 channel when it's needed.
In addition to the film itself, there's also an 'alternate ending' and some deleted scenes. The ending that is in the film is the ending that was written in the script. As they were filming however, the director and writer came up with another ending that they filmed intending it to be in the final cut. Apparently the studio didn't like the new conclusion and so the scripted version was filmed and included in the theatrical release. I didn't like this ending any better than the 'real' one. I felt that some of the actions that people take didn't fit with their characters as they'd been developed in the past hour and a half and was pretty weak. I rolled my eyes at one scene in particular at the climax.
There are also several deleted scenes which are introduced and narrated by director Richard Donner and screenwriter Richard Wenk. The problem with these is that there isn't an option to see the scene as it was filmed; the commentary is mandatory. The pair even shows up in a little box inserted into the corner of the screen. While I enjoyed hearing why the various scenes were cut, viewers should have the option of screening them without the comments.
This film was your average Hollywood movie: it was entertaining enough though they didn't let things like characterization and authenticity get in the way of the simple story. The Blu-ray disc looks very good, with only the most minor of flaws present. If you're looking for an evening's worth of entertainment and nothing more, this would be worth a rental.