At no point in 16 Blocks, the forgettable new buddy movie from Lethal Weapon director Richard Donner, does Bruce Willis' beaten-down cop ever actually utter the immortal words "I'm too old for this shit." He doesn't have to, since everything about his character's appearance conveys that sentiment just as indelibly. Playing his umpteenth renegade cop, Willis lets his character's external characteristics do most of his work. Willis' sizeable paunch, regrettable mustache, pasty skin, and bloodshot eyes convey his character's physical exhaustion and spiritual world-weariness even without the requisite exposition about his character's hard-drinking ways and tormented past.
An action thriller exactly like every other, the film pairs Willis with Mos Def, who plays the kind of retrograde, stereotypical role—a chatterbox small-time criminal with dreams of opening a bakery—he'd rail bitterly against in his angry-political-rapper mode. Mos Def has always taken chances as a rapper and actor, but his decision to give his hapless crook the high-pitched, nasal whine of a mush-mouthed Urkel doesn't exactly pay huge creative dividends: The problem with playing an irritating character too convincingly is that it generally annoys the audience as well as the protagonist. In 16 Blocks, the promising but wasted B-movie premise involves Willis transporting Def the eponymous distance so he can testify against dirty cops. Veteran heavy David Morse lends a smiling malevolence to his role as a corrupt policeman intent on eliminating Def before he can put a whole bunch of cops in prison.
Richard Wenk's familiar screenplay laboriously establishes Willis as an exhausted, limping shell of a man rotting internally from decades of alcoholism and self-hatred. Yet whenever the film requires it, Willis magically morphs into a super-cop with the lightning-fast reflexes of an 18-year-old Navy SEAL. Then he undergoes just as dramatic a de-evolution back into a bumbling buffoon when the movie requires him to, say, lose track of his prisoner/pal. Great movies tend to inspire animated post-viewing conversations. But the only talk passable genre mediocrities like 16 Blocks should inspire involves plot holes, inconsistencies, and contempt for logic and plausibility.