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Movie Review

Sixteen blocks. That's the meager distance NYPD detective Jack Mosley has to escort repeat offender Eddie Bunker from a holdover cell to the city courthouse. After working the midnight shift, the down-on-his-luck alcoholic cop just wants to go home and get rid of his hangover. Eddie's due in court in two hours. Despite the morning rush-hour traffic, their trip should only take 15 minutes.

It doesn't. Turns out Eddie's a wanted man in more ways than one. After stopping at a liquor store for some relief, Jack walks out to find an assassin with a gun pointed at Eddie's head. He and Eddie manage to escape the goon and another would-be assailant, and after reaching a safe haven promptly call for backup. But when it arrives, things get even thornier. The normally garrulous Eddie suddenly clams up when a certain officer walks into the room, piquing Jack's curiosity. And when Jack's ex-partner, Frank, seems a little too eager for him to hand the matter over, Jack's suspicions cause Frank to tell all: Eddie witnessed one of Frank's crooked men "doing business" and is set to testify before a grand jury in a case that could bring down Frank and several other shady cops. Frank asks Jack to simply "do what you always do" by playing it safe and walking away while the team frames—and then kills—Eddie.

But Jack won't do it this time. Instead, he pulls a gun and flees with Eddie. And his determination to finish the task he was given and see justice through "changes everything," as Frank says.

Positive Elements

A core redemptive message here—that individuals, no matter what their past, can change—centers on the "good guys" turning their own lives around. Eddie often speaks of proving everyone wrong about their assumptions of who he is. Despite spending half his life in prison for an assortment of petty crimes, he's determined to break the cycle. He reminds Jack of all his criminal friends who have made good of themselves and pins his hopes on doing the same. For the most part, he also maintains an optimistic attitude that's reflected when, in the midst of a potentially fatal situation, he says, "I'm glad to be here, alive."

Jack, meanwhile, is initially as hard as they come. Convinced that he's a bad person who will never amount to anything, his effort to keep Eddie alive serves as a personal vindication of sorts—and indeed we see the transformation. At all costs (and without giving away the entire story, the price is certainly high), his primary concern is for justice to come about ... and for Eddie's record to be expunged. Throughout their "salvation journey," he risks his life for Eddie and, as his friend puts it, "does the right thing." Eddie returns the favor in a dire situation.

A policeman shows kindness by literally giving Eddie a free (subway) ride. Jack and Eddie thank an old man for providing them with a safe haven. Jack's sister and a partner put their necks on the line by helping the pair out. As they do, Eddie tells them that Jack is a better man than they think. Jack, on the other hand, confesses the truth to Eddie, then tells him, "You saved my life, kid."

Spiritual Content

Crucifixes and Virgin Mary pictures appear in an apartment. Frank paints a verbal picture of Eddie trying to be a "good citizen" that includes him going to church. Eddie tells Jack, "God bless you."

Eddie frequently voices his belief in following "the signs" that are ever-present. His "everything happens for a reason" take leads him to conclude that life is all about "being in the right place at the right time." He later tells Jack that they were destined to meet and help each other out.

Sexual Content

When Jack suggests the possibility of Eddie's sister (whom the criminal has never met) looking like Angelina Jolie, Eddie responds by saying, "Then let's hope she ain't my sister."

Violent Content

Several men get shot, and gunfire is exchanged frequently.Blood spatters across a car window after a man gets shot in the back of his head. He then crashes through the window. The red liquid is again shown at a crime scene and after Jack and Eddie both get injured on separate occasions (the camera zooms in as Jack washes his bloodied hands in a sink).

A bus rams through crowded streets, smashing into cars and buildings along its way. Police shoot out its tires, sending the bus whirling out of control, and members of a SWAT team throw explosive tear gas into it. Eddie slams a large door on a pursuer's arm and kicks an injured man who attempted to shoot him. A couple of characters are knocked over by moving vehicles. A story is told of Frank causing an innocent man to have a heart attack by putting a gun into his mouth.

Crude or Profane Language

Two f-bombs get dropped along with 15-plus s-words. God's name is misused a handful of times (twice it is combined with "d--n"); Jesus' is profaned once. There are another dozen or so milder profanities.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Jack is so dependant on the bottle that he raids a crime scene just to swipe a drink. To "ease" his hangover, he later buys and downs a bottle. Fortunately, his alcoholic ways are far from glamorized; he's called a "wino," is clearly impaired by his substance abuse and seems to have a reputation for being easily persuaded via free liquor (Frank tries to get him out of his hair by offering the hard stuff). Characters share beers at a party. Other scenes take place in a bar and liquor store.

A crime scene shows lines of cocaine on a table. Eddie makes a comment about Jack taking a break from their adventure "to get high."

Other Negative Elements

Frank lies throughout the story to cover his and his team's corrupt actions. More disturbing, however, is the generally shady characterization of the entire New York police force, in which everyone—captains, lieutenants, lead detectives—seems to be in on something corrupt.

Though his ultimate intent is to bring about justice, Jack hijacks a bus full of passengers and puts all of their lives at risk. He also forces the driver to drive recklessly through town. (Jack later apologizes, saying, "I'm sorry—sorry that I got you in this situation.")

In what was possibly the most disappointing scene, Eddie soaks up a momentary advantage over Frank by holding a loaded gun to his throat and asking him, "How's that feel?" While Eddie's entertaining of vengeance-filled thoughts is understandable, it nonetheless taints the moral hope his character represents throughout the movie.

Conclusion

"This could get ugly—for all of us."That line from 16 Blocks perfectly captured my thoughts as I sat down to watch this seemingly predictable movie. Another disgruntled cop movie featuring—surprise!—Bruce Willis, who apparently has a contract to play the same character in every third movie through 2085. Another rapper-turned-actor put in for comic relief. Another mindless actioner from the guy who unleashed all four Lethal Weapon movies.

I stand (and sit) corrected. 16 Blocks is a surprisingly intelligent film that, unlike most of its genre contemporaries—especially the standard Willis project—relies more on situational intensity than fast-paced action and loud explosions. Beneath the plot's surface is a struggle for identity and hope shared by two characters who are just slightly less shady than everyone else. One's a criminal hoping for another chance; the other's a man so overwrought with his own wrongdoings (which aren't spelled out until the end) that he's determined grace has passed him by. Thus, surprisingly, this is a story about redemption.

Along the way, it presents plenty of existential dilemmas that further demonstrate that this isn't your average buddy-action flick. Woven in between Eddie's theoretical question that addresses the value of life (it's posed throughout the movie), Jack is forced to define the worth of a criminal. Frank, who was once Jack's best friend, tells him to look to the past for the answer: "He's always gonna do what he's done," he says of Eddie. "He's a career criminal." But hope says differently. And as it rises unexpectedly in Jack, he's determined to resolve this deeper issue.

Unfortunately, director Richard Donner doesn't always linger on this thoughtful level, but instead comes up to its grimy surface. Living up to the billing, his film gets downright "ugly" at times. Its language, violence and flowing alcohol flout the grace and hope contained deep within. And while portraying gritty characters on their way to redemption is one thing, 16 Blocks unnecessarily taints an otherwise meaningful message with just enough garbage to make it difficult (or impossible) for discerning moviegoers to get from point A to point B.

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