16 Blocks

By Mark Ramsey | 2006/03/05

Somewhere there’s a bungalow on the Warner Brothers lot where Bruce Willis’ hair goes to die, and die hard.

Mos Def plays opposite Willis, a.k.a. “Mos Bald” in a thriller that stretches for 16 Blocks and 105 unholy minutes.

Bald though he may be, Bruce makes the best of it with a hair appliance that suspiciously resembles a pubic mound.

16blocks_willis.jpg“I get more media attention with a bush on my head,” said Bruce, “and at my age that’s an infrequent and welcome pleasure.”

Bruce is a burned out, alcohol-addled, paunchy, sad sack of a man, old before his time, limping through a life that is too long to bear.

And he plays a character like that in this movie, too.

Redemption is what Bruce seeks. Just like Clint Eastwood in Unforgiven – if Clint had previously made Look Who’s Talking instead of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

It’s a familiar genre by now, cops past their prime, hoping for one last chance at box office relevance.

Bruce saves Mos Def from some crooked cops who are out to make him Mos Dead before he can reach the courthouse to testify. So the story resides in the 16 blocks between the beginning of Bruce’s journey and its end.

“I’ll be right back,” Willis tells Mos Def. “My forehead’s due for a Brazilian wax.”

But look out! Ushering Mos Def to safety puts Bruce’s own life in danger: “Don’t shoot until you see the landing strip between his eyes,” says crooked cop David Morse.

The cops are aided by the fact that no matter where Bruce goes the cops always – and I mean always – find him. In a city of eight million people Bruce Willis can’t get lost.

“If you see bush at eye level, shoot and ask questions later,” commands Morse.

Evidently, the cops can track Willis by his cell phone. But I have to ask, if you can always know where someone is by their cell phone, how come in every public place the first thing anyone on a cell phone says is where they are?! “My plane just landed. I’m still packed like a sardine in here but I must call you now rather than five minutes from now when I’m off the plane because that way everyone else on board can enjoy hearing me helplessly specify my coordinates.” And so on, all around you.


Willis and Def have to reach the jury to testify before 10 am because that’s when the jury’s tenure ends! Hurry up, Bruce! Don’t miss tenure! You don’t want the jury to be on an extended sabbatical by the time you get there! Don’t wait until the jury retires to a condo in Miami!

“Just look for the forehead that needs some electrolysis,” commands Morse.

There’s the high speed bus chase – through Manhattan?! Bruce ultimately pretends to take the bus and all its participants hostage, and the only thing I could think of was, what happens in a bus hostage situation when somebody has to go to the bathroom? It doesn’t say much for a movie when the audience’s prime concern is the whereabouts of the nearest lavatory for the film’s extras.

Right in the middle one of the main audio tracks just stopped working. All the background noise was crystal clear but all the dialogue was almost inaudible. We in the audience looked around at each other, trying to decide if it was worth it to let a projectionist know, debating to ourselves whether hearing a word of dialogue could possibly make any difference whatsoever and pondering that there’s never been an oversized box of Raisinettes that has tasted better just because Bruce Willis is narrating your consumption of it.

Finally, someone stood up and left the theater to get the problem fixed. We all stared at him, not comprehending how he could fail to appreciate the joys of theater-going in all their yin-yang glory. Simultaneous distribution on DVD be damned, I say! Give me a road trip, an uncomfortable seat, some over-priced nachos, a crying infant, and a soundtrack I can’t hear anytime! I’m going to the movies!

So where was I?

Oh, there everybody sits on the bus, and Bruce has covered all the windows with newspaper (which, by the way, may be the best way to get people to read one) and duct tape. Where a roll of duct tape came from on a mid-Manhattan bus is anybody’s guess, but I suspect it fell from the sky, like the rest of the fantastically unlikely scenarios presented with a straight face in this movie.

On this bus we learn that Mos Def loves kids and wants to bake cakes for a living. He’s just a sweet guy, albeit one with a criminal record as long as your arm. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like my baker to be a chef at Chez Crystal Meth in his off-time.

“My bakery,” says Mos Def, “it’ll be called ‘Mos Def by Chocolate.’”

So begins an escape from the bus so over-the-top Bruce and Mos might as well be CG-animated fish who swim 16 blocks to the courthouse so they can give their deposition beside one of those little fake divers at the bottom of an aquarium. Now that would be entertaining!

Said Mos to Willis, “Are those razor bumps on your forehead or are you just happy to see me?”

More than once Bruce contacts the exasperated assistant DA whose tone seems to say “Oh Bruce, I’m an interchangeable supporting player in a forgettable Bruce Willis movie. How am I supposed to earn residuals off a piece of crap like this? And by the way, can I tweeze your forehead?”

Finally, Bruce gets a gift from Mos, a cake with “People Can Change” printed on it. What kind of cake message is this? What does Mos bake for Valentine’s Day, “You’re not perfect, but you’re mine”? And for birthdays: “‘Happy’ is too strong a word – have a pleasant birthday!”

If, in his entire life, Bruce Willis has known a non-heroic finish then it’s certainly not on film. It’s more likely on the Planet Hollywood concert stage, back in the day when Bruce wore that silly cap like Ed Norton from The Honeymooners.

From here Bruce moves on to kindly grandfather roles, followed by syrupy death-bed roles, culminating in the ultimate humiliation: His own website where he reviews movies.

Hey, wait a minute!

If this is what you can expect from these 16 Blocks, then it’s time to move to a new neighborhood

Photos Copyright ©2006 Warner Bros. Pictures

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