More noise than signal

16 Blocks

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Throughout history, there have been many ludicrous reasons for someone to take umbrage at a particular film. Thus I humbly submit my own, Mos Def’s accent.

It’s exceedingly annoying, primarily because otherwise 16 Blocks is a fairly decent film. What you’ve got isn’t an altogether unfamiliar scenario – depressed alcoholic detective Jack Mosley (Bruce Willis) is roped in at the last minute to transport petty thief turned states evidence Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) the sixteen blocks (see? Not just a catchy title!) between the cop shop holding cell and the courthouse. Seems easy enough, as long as Eddie isn’t, say testifying against corruption in the police force.

What? He is? Oh no. Assassination attempts would seem to be the order of the day, with Jack’s ex-partner Frank Nugent (David Morse) at the helm. Will Frank stop at nothing to stop the impending scandal that will ruin careers up to and including the Commissioner? Seems likely. Will Jack do his damndest to make sure that Eddie get to court in one piece? Almost certainly. Will this make for decent entertainment, if not genre redefining brilliance? Meh. Could have done. If not for Mos Def’s accent.

This is, charitably, a really stupid reason for not liking a film. It’s also slightly demeaning to Mr. Def, so allow me to amplify and clarify, unlike the man himself. Now, the Mozzer, as he likes to be called, has been popping up in supporting roles for a few years now with generally positive results. Aside from being about the only part-way believable character in Monster’s Ball, he’s provided solid backup in Brown Sugar, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the needlessly remade The Italian Job. All in all, if there was one rapper-turned-actor that we could keep while strapping the rest to a suitably sized rocket and firing them directly at Jupiter, it’d be Mos Def. We at theOneliner recognise the realness that is the Mozzer.

So why in the name of all that is gracious in this rancid world must he lumber his way through this entire film sounding as though he’s trying to speak through his nostrils? Who decided a mumbling, pitch-shifted Droopy Dawg impersonation was just the ticket? What hateful moron figured the best way to have us rooting for his survival was to have him speak, at great length and almost continually, with an accent so annoying that after ten minutes you just wished he’d be killed to remove the possibility of him ever talking again? When we find the person or multiples thereof responsible for this film-destroying blunder you’d better believe there’ll be some rocket-strapping going on. Recognise that realness, bizznitch.

Bruce Willis is back doing the Bruce Willis thing, except this time with a limp and another example in what seems to be becoming a running joke of dodgy facial hair. As usual with Bruce Willis, he’s eminently watchable which you’d expect from an actor far more accomplished than he’s given credit for by many who can’t see past the action hero shenanigans of Die Hard. Frank Nugent and his assortment of cop goons prove less effective; bland, characterless foils to our heroes than is needed to give much of an impetus to care, Def’s accent or no.

You might not particularly notice or care about that unless you’re paying close attention, as veteran director Richard Donner keeps everything whipping along at a fair old pace, with a few relatively believable shootouts, as these things go, decent chase scenes and all-round an entirely acceptable game of cat ‘n’ mouse. It’s nowhere near his Goonies / Lethal Weapon highs, but not quite down at his Timeline (eeuch) / Lethal Weapon 4 lows. If you are able, by some auditory miracle, to stomach Mos Def’s accent then you’ll no doubt find that 16 Blocks is a perfectly acceptable, run-of-the-mill little thriller and be happy enough with the whole thing.

If, like most sane people, you end up deciding that Mozzer’s affected accent is the closest the human vocal chords will get to imitating fingernails scraped over a blackboard then you’ll get rather less joy out of 16 Blocks. In fact, you may think it to be Die Hard With A Vengeance with all of the redeeming features stripped out. Essentially, 16 Blocks is another in a long line of adequate, largely unremarkable films that we wind up blowing a small issue up into something larger to stop us falling asleep while writing a review. Tragically given the avalanche of awful, awful films released so far this year, it’s actually one of the better ones. Ho-hum.