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Category:    Home > Reviews > Thriller > Drama > 16 Blocks (HD-DVD/DVD Combo Format)

16 Blocks (HD-DVD/DVD Combo Format)


Picture: B/B-     Sound: B/B-     Extras: C     Film: C



Bruce Willis is a survivor in the business because he does not follow too many formulas and is willing to take unusual risks.  At his best, he is a star who can really act, while he slums and smirks through projects he is obviously bored with just to collect a paycheck.  16 Blocks brings him together with producer/director Richard Donner in a thriller about a burned out cop (Willis) who is about to pack it in when he decides to (even his own surprise) protect a key witness (Mos Def) in a police corruption case.  The cops led by a fellow veteran (David Morse) want the witness dead and want it took look like an accident.


That leaves the moralistic cop and criminal witness needing to travel the title location to the courthouse to testify, if they can get there alive.  This set-up should have been intense and offered non-stop suspense.  Donner knows how to direct such material, both Willis & Morse can act and Mos Def is more talented than many have given him credit for.  The problem is, whenever there is a choice to be edgy and pump up the intensity of the situation, Richard Wenk’s screenplay gets easily sidetracked at the worst times and the film has more false starts than a rusted car in the desert for several months.


One key problem is this insistence by the creators to add humor in ways that make no sense whatsoever.  Mos Def in particular is very good at going from serious to comic to serio-comic, but the script foils his talents constantly, leading to unintentionally funny moments for everyone.  In the cop/buddy movies of the 1970s, this was never an issue, but between some bizarre sense of political correctness and frankly white filmmakers being clueless about how to handle an African American talent, the film never gels.  If the humor was cut down and the life & death aspects pumped up, this would have been a sleeper hit, in part because the cast is great and everyone is likable.  Filmmakers will want to see it just to see what went wrong.


The anamorphically enhanced 2.35 X 1 image on the standard DVD side looks better than the screwy, oddly flat, image noise-laden DVD side of the first title issued in this format, Rumor Has It…, but not nearly as good as that side on Firewall.  Both are reviewed elsewhere on this site.  Though it still has Video Black and definition limits, it is about as good as you would expect from a stand-alone DVD, but not much more.


The 1080p 2.35 X 1 digital High Definition image is better than the standard version, but the cinematography is very odd.  It is supposed to take place in New York, but was shot in Canada!  Then in typically generic fashion, the film was slightly darkened throughout to have that “urban chic” going for it.  The problem with this approach by Donner and cinematographer Glen MacPherson, A.S.C., is that Canada has a darker look to it naturally to begin with.  Didn’t these guys ever watch the early seasons of The X-Files?  Either way, the resulting effect throughout is “urban lite” and Donner has done this kind of thing better before, especially with the first Lethal Weapon.


The Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix is better than the regular, standard Dolby Digital 5.1 mix on the standard DVD side, with some good articulation throughout that has its moments, but this is nothing spectacular without any particularly impressive or original character to it.  In fairness, this is more dialogue-based than the usual because it is supposed to be more thriller than action film.  Klaus Badelt’s score is on the dull side and very much the same thing we have heard before in this genre.  I also found it odd that such a new film was not in Dolby TrueHD, but it is a recent recording that still has enough bass for that “urban” feel.


The only extras include the original theatrical trailer, the alternate ending that is still trying to have a happy ending whether it thinks so or not and deleted scenes that also did not make much of a difference.  16 Blocks is a big missed opportunity when all is said and done.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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