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Willis right for ‘16 Blocks’

Not just a shoot-’em-up


THRILLING: Willis, Def.
  • THRILLING: Willis, Def.

If you stop by this space often, you know I’m drawn to those movies that play with human morality. I’m interested more so in the question of how morality can alter fate. That is: Just because you’ve always done what’s right (or, for that matter, what’s wrong), does that mean you always will?

A fine-toothed exploration of this is to be had in the new Bruce Willis vehicle “16 Blocks.” Often plumbing the dark corners of what it is to be “right” or “wrong,” it’s a fast-paced, interesting character study masquerading as a shoot-’em-up.

Willis plays Jack Mosley, a burned-out, alcoholic cop who looks like he’s on a one-way trip to the bottom of the gutter. It seems his superiors in the NYPD can smell the scent of defeat on him as well, assigning him desk duty and make-work projects. One of these projects seems easy as pie: transport a small-time parole-violator named Eddie Bunker (rapper-turned-actor Mos Def) 16 blocks to the courthouse for an appointment with the grand jury.

The problem is, Mosley can’t pass a liquor store these days without slipping in for a bottle. Halfway to the courthouse, he does exactly that, leaving his handcuffed charge in the back seat. He emerges just in time to shoot two masked assassins dead — men who had been gunning for his seemingly small-fry Bunker as he sat in the back seat of the patrol car. When the cavalry arrives, Mosley learns the dark truth: The killers had been hired by a band of dirty cops, intent that Bunker wouldn’t make it to the courthouse to testify against them. In a moment of clarity, Mosley turns on his old partner (David Morse) and sets out on a desperate and often thrilling run for the courthouse, trying to get there before 10 a.m., when the tenure of the grand jury is scheduled to end.

Willis is good here, lumpy and tired and broken by life. Being that his character is no saint himself, it’s interesting to watch as Mosley struggles with the better angels of his nature, especially over a guy as useless and despicable as Bunker, who has a rap sheet as long as your arm. Less impressive is Mos Def, who delivers all his lines in what might be the most annoying voice ever put to film: a nasal, whining drone that sounds like he has two cigarette butts jammed up his nose. If that’s his real voice, he needs some help. Though Mos Def is earnest and sometimes funny in his role of sidekick, it’s Willis who ends up stealing the show.
In all, “16 Blocks” is a pretty good movie, especially for one that features a high-speed bus chase. Thoughtful and genuine in terms of how it approaches the myriad sins of its subjects, it’s a nice time at the movies, and will surely help you empty your popcorn bucket.

Ultra waste

Now that we’ve finally arrived here in The Future — land of I-pods and $3-a-gallon gasoline — it seems all anybody wants to do is look beyond it. Too, for the most part, it’s a bleak vision, full of (thanks, no doubt, to the current presidential administration’s penchant for wiping their boots on the Bill of Rights) intrigue and fascism.

The latest entry into this increasingly dark vision of tomorrow is “Ultraviolet.” Though it is built around a topic that’s all-too familiar in this day and age (a future plague that wipes out a good portion of mankind and ushers in a new era of germ-fueled totalitarianism), it’s not much of a movie. Mostly — like the similar, Charlize Theron-starring “Aeon Flux” of just a few months ago — it exists only as a kind of fantasy engine, providing extended shots of its leather-clad female star as she shoots, kicks and slices her way through battalions of naughty men. You know: a fanboy’s dream.

In this case, said star is the comely Milla Jovovich. Jovovich plays Violet, one of a dwindling group of resistance fighters, all of them infected with a mysterious virus (for the record, they’re called “hemophages,” and while they exhibit all the traits of the classic, as-seen-in-Stoker vampire, that fact never really seems to figure into anything).

By rights, a resistance has to have something to resist against. In this case, it’s the medical-obsessed government, which kills anyone exposed to hemophage blood on sight. The whole shebang is run by a doctor named Daxus (Nick Chinlund), who set himself up as emperor for life after stopping the spread of the virus a few years back.

Sent into Daxus’ fortress-like palace/research facility — which is, for some reason, shaped like an enormous crucifix — to retrieve a vital new weapon, Violet goes against the orders of her superiors and opens the case. Inside, she finds a young boy named Six. (Cameron Bright … and don’t ask how a 10-year-old fits into a case the size of a family-sized cereal box. It’s complicated.)

Having lost a child herself, Violet disobeys orders to kill the boy and goes on the run, now an outlaw hunted by both Daxus and her own kind.

Jovovich is rather wooden here as Violet, playing the part of a life-sized sex doll to a T. A worse sin is the fact that the storyline is just out and out stupid, full of unnecessary backtracks and subplots, not to mention hordes of enemies who fight with samurai swords only to give us the chance to see how cool Jovovich’s hair looks while she’s sword fighting in slow-motion.

In short, while “Ultraviolet” is sure to haunt many a teen-age dream in coming nights, for the most part, it’s just forgettable. If you’re a fan of the comic book/action genre, wait for the DVD. If you’re anybody else, no need to bother.

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