A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the film includes scenes of explicit violence, involving shooting, explosions, and fistfights, much of it in slow motion to emphasize blood spurting or faces grimacing and initiated by policemen trying to kill a witness to a corrupt cop's case. The protagonist is a severe alcoholic, so he spends much of the first third of the movie drinking, looking for a drink, or showing signs of needing a drink (shaking and coughing, with sickly pallor). Characters use the f-word a couple of times (one muffled), as well as other curse words (s-word, n-word).
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What's the story?
Burnout cop Jack (Bruce Willis) is so miserable in his own skin that he seems to have trouble peering out from it. While Willis has perfected the gait, the tone, the utter weariness of this character (he's played similar characters in Sin City and Hostage), Jack is extra-burdened with alcoholism, unable to get through more than a few minutes at a time without visibly trembling. His current assignment is to transport Eddie (Mos Def), a witness to a police corruption case, from the jail to the courthouse where he's scheduled to testify (this distance constitutes the title's 16 blocks). Eddie seems the opposite of Jack, a petty thief who keeps his head down (and his voice high and nasal), prone to talking lots about his optimistic philosophy of the world and annoying the pessimistic Jack. Eddie bakes cakes, sending precious little bits of sugary sunshine into unhappy lives whenever he can.
Is it any good?
While lean in look and structure, 16 BLOCKS is weighed down by improbable plot turns and poor choices along the way. Because Eddie charms little girls under duress and speaks eloquently about birthday celebrations, his targeting by the bad men becomes strangely vindicating: their desire to hurt him makes Eddie "good," within the film's reductive moral set-up. Though Jack doesn't precisely trust Eddie, he knows too much about the wannabe killers, mainly because one is his longtime partner, Frank. Apparently, Frank has at his disposal every cop in New York, for soon they're all out trying to kill Eddie and Jack before they reach the courthouse. The fact that this passes for plot and not a joke is testament to the general sense of malaise and distrust that afflicts today's moviegoers: Everyone's a cynic, from characters to consumers.
Eddie views his situation pragmatically, and must learn to trust Jack (because, as he rightly points out, "Ever since I been with you, people been tryin' to shoot me"). For his part, Jack takes stock of himself, stops drinking, and starts crafting a strategy, moment by moment, to keep his man alive and get him to the courthouse. This strategy involves frequent plot holes and conveniences, patched together with action sequences and banter scenes. While the formula might have seemed clever(er) back in Donner's Lethal Weapon's heyday, now it's creaky. Eddie and Jack argue about whether "people can change," with Eddie insisting they can and surly Jack, no surprise, thinking otherwise. While Eddie is most certainly in need of saving by Jack, he also gets to save Jack. It's what buddies do.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about alcoholism. How does the movie suggest that Jack's alcoholism is a symptom of his moral/emotional malaise? How does his briefly rendered relationship with his sister indicate his troubled past and onetime courage and outrage? How does the bonding between Jack and Eddie help both cop and the thief to overcome their sense of failure and corruption?
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