Richard Donner’s latest has the kind of premise that gets locals scanning the backgrounds: Wino cop Jack Mosley (Willis) is assigned to escort witness Eddie Bunker (Mos Def) 16 blocks from his cell to the courthouse, where Eddie will testify against a half-dozen unscrupulous officers. Naturally, the entire NYPD—led by Jack’s ex-partner, Frank Nugent (Morse)—plans to prevent them from getting there. Still, 16 blocks ain’t much, and when, in the first 15 minutes of screen time, Willis and Mos Def appear to travel from Union Square to Chinatown (with a little Toronto en route?), it’s hard not to wonder why they haven’t arrived.
Increasing the numeral might have helped; so would casting a star with conviction. Willis plays Jack with a weariness not so much feigned as lived in, and the movie more or less sticks to his speed. The indignation of a few Internet cinephiles notwithstanding, 16 Blocks is too staid to seem entirely plagiarized from Clint Eastwood’s The Gauntlet (in which Clint chaperoned a witness from Vegas to Phoenix). With only a small amount of ground to cover, 16 Blocks frequently slows for discourse on loyalty, providing Jack and Frank with time to debate their friendship, and pausing for Jack and Eddie to bond over the buttoning of a shirt. Even a tense-ish basement standoff and a dog-day hostage situation fail to duplicate the momentum—not to mention the suspense—of a daily commute. (Opens Fri; see Index for venues.)—Ben Kenigsberg