The Rogue's Gallery: 16 Blocks

Flashback: It's May of 1995. Little Rogue is all of 13 and a half, and a long way from gaining his titular adjective (that's a fancy way of saying I wasn't drunken yet). My small home town's movie theater had recently been bought out by another company who had turned it into a theater with the coolest ideas ever. Tickets were only a dollar (like the bargain basement theaters) but they showed new releases (like the real movie theaters). At age 13 this was about as close to heaven as I thought I could get. I must have seen literally every movie that came out that summer, most of them several times, but the one I remember most is the one I didn't go see.

Mom had dropped me off that Friday night (like almost every Friday night that summer) I found out what time my film would be over so she could pick me up, she waved goodbye and I headed in to see the Sandra Bullock movie "While You Were Sleeping". But I didn't see "While You Were Sleeping". For the first time in my young life (but not the last) I snuck into a movie I had not paid for, a movie that I wasn't supposed to see, an R rated movie. I snuck in to "Die Hard: With a Vengeance".

As a child of the eighties I didn't stand much chance not falling in love with the action superheroes of the day, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis. I'd even throw Mel Gibson in there based on the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon series'. It didn't help my action addiction that my father, while powerfully against sex and language in film, couldn't help but cheer for wholesale violence and huge explosions. Other than our late night Duck Hunt game fests, one of my favorite memories of "me and Dad time" is watching films like the original Predator and Commando. It was our only little private world. Mom wasn't interested and Sis was too young. This was "guy stuff" and we loved it. Bruce Willis, on the other hand, the whole family loved. So great was our affection for the Die Hard series that the second installment actually forced my father to break down and buy a new TV and VCR. Ours had been failing for years, but it was the low light scenes in "Die Hard 2: Die Harder" that finally sent him, grumbling, to the electronics store. How could they be surprised then when their good little boy couldn't stand to wait for video to see the further adventures of his hero, John McClane, especially when his story was being told so nearby (and for a dollar, no less)?

My love for "Die Hard" and Willis has not faltered over the years. It is a combination of newfound thrifty-ness and worry about the desecration of one of the cornerstones of my youth that has thus far kept me from seeing "Live Free or Die Hard". I'll tell you what I think about that one as soon as I get up the nerve to check it out. I had no such qualms about watching Willis' outing with Mos Def, "16 Blocks".

Like most good action movies, "16 Blocks" takes less time to explain that it does to say the title. Willis' character, Detective Jack Mosely, has to escort Mos Def's character, Eddie Bunker, just 16 blocks (where have I heard that before?) to the courthouse to testify before a grand jury. Of course what makes it interesting (and the whole reason they made a movie about this) is that most of the NYPD don't want Bunker to make it. It seems his testimony concerns crooked cops and is a crucial piece to knocking down a ring of corruption that pretty much goes all the way to the top.

Bruce Willis got famous on a little show called "Moonlighting" but what made him an action hero (and one little boy's idol) was playing a crotchety cop who complained while doing the right thing even if it was incredibly dangerous. Imagine if right after McClane saved his wife (and dropped Severus Snape off the top of that building) he had moved back to New York, developed a serious drinking habit, and gotten old and fat. That's the guy Willis is playing here.

It sounds cookie-cutter (take reluctant hero, put him up against impossible odds, cash big fat checks) but the level of acting from Willis and Def (and the superb work of Richard Donner behind the camera) make this film much more than that. Any good action movie should have a premise that's simple to relate to others, but it should also have characters that make it worth recommending, "16 Blocks" does. It won't change your world, but it won't waste an afternoon of your time either. It also won't desecrate a cornerstone of your youth, the same can't be said about every film out there.