Four score…actually just half my life ago, sometimes very late on Friday or Saturday night, knowing that no school or any major activity would require my attention the next day, I would watch a movie or two on a decent sized tube television (remember those?). Before streaming and apps mind you, cable networks (USA, TNT, TBS, etc.) would play movies all the way up till 4 or 5 am on the weekends. All kinds of movies, old ones, really old ones, sort of 2 to 3 year old newer ones, cheesy ones; I’d call these my ‘up all night’ movies. I’d have a slice or two of cold pizza or a Lunchable combined with mild Taco Bell hot sauce and watch them the whole way through, WITH COMMERCIALS, and wouldn’t go to bed until the credits rolled. My favorite ones to watch were movies I hadn’t seen yet before, but more specifically the cheesy cop drama/actioners that usually took place at night and told the tale within the span of that one night. They weren’t fantastic or perfect films mind you, but they hold a dear place in the heart of my childhood, and 21 BRIDGES managed to bring back those memberberries.
I am in no way going to put this film on my top twenty of 2019 list, but if I’m ever up again that late (very rare, considering I consider myself an old fart and get tired way too quickly for that shit anymore) I would probably queue this film on a streaming platform. Taking place in the span of one night, 21 BRIDGES is about a very determined cop (yet very closely follows the rules of his job) hunting down a pair of thieves that robbed a joint and happened to kill about 7-8 cops on their way out, a ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ situation that unfortunately played out. As the hunt for the two men progresses, the cop has an ingenious plan: it’s 1 a.m. not too many people out on the streets, so let’s box the cop killers in, and close Manhattan, all 21 bridges, the subways, river boats, everything. He is given until the sun comes up before they have no choice but to open the city back up before riots start taking place. Also, as the hunt goes on, he has to grapple with the fact that a lot of these cops counting on him to catch the killers want him to kill them so they don’t get their due process. Also, and of cliched course, nothing is as it seems, but what kind of movie like that wouldn’t have that plot point as there would really be no movie without it? Straight up cat and mouse thrillers don’t work anymore.
Of course, and unfortunately, this is a case of where if you’ve seen the trailers to this movie, it probably gives a little too much away, as you can piece together what is going on by the end of the first act. It tries to even itself out of its predictability by having the fates of some characters come to a close sooner than you’d think, but it doesn’t quite steer clear of the familiarity. Also, at being only 99 minutes, some of the characters stand around and talk a little bit too much, a couple of shots held on too long by just a few seconds, which sort of adds to the cheesiness vibe I was talking about when describing my favorite ‘up all night’ films. But it’s all okay. The point is that even with all the familiarity, predictability and some dialogue scene pacing issues, the movie is quite entertaining. Part of that entertaining quality is that the action scenes are spread out, have a grounded feel to them, and guess what? No fucking shaky cam or any weird editing issues. I knew what was playing out on screen, who was where, who was shot and/or dying, where the car was going while chasing someone, etc. All crystal clear, and I have to commend any action film that can do that nowadays, seeing as we get way too much shit like Charlie’s Angels and Black and Blue. It’s nice to have a movie like this come along every so often and bring some kind of balance to the way films are shot, edited, and directed.
There was another big little thing I noticed that definitely put a smile on my face as well. No noticeable stupid fake CGI blood when people were getting shot and killed. This movie uses those timed blood special effect explosive bags throughout the whole thing, and made me realized how much I truly miss that level of technical film making, ESPECIALLY in cheesy cop drama/actioners. They even use old school make up for those close ups of deceased people’s head shots, eye shots, body shots, any kind of shot. I really appreciate that kind of attention to detail. The film also has detectives doing actual detective work instead of just coming upon things by happenstance. The movie of course also wouldn’t work without Chadwick Boseman, aka Black Panther, who brings a level of acting gravitas needed to not have the movie go full out cheesy and stay a little bit grounded. Anyone else in the role, and I probably wouldn’t be recommending this film. The robbers/cop killers played by Taylor Kitsch and Stephen James are a close second, their backstories and playing up those personalities elevated what could’ve been just one dimensional bone headed villain fodder. Sienna Miller and J.K. Simmons unfortunately get the one-dimensional predictable cop arcs, where it’s mostly just cursing and screaming and cliched cop dialogue. But I don’t blame them as they have proven time and again they are incredible actors. That falls all on the script.
Like I said, it isn’t the greatest ‘up all night’ cheesy yet serious cop thriller/drama/actioner I’ve ever seen, but I have to admit I was plenty entertained throughout the whole thing, with the little nice technical touches and Boseman’s acting that elevated the flaws with the dialogue, characters, and some of the predictability of the story. The only thing I regret is not seeing this film as late as possible at a theater with something to eat in order to try and replicate the feelings and experience I used to have when I was a kid. I guess that is what home video is for, and technically, I’m getting the film (and two others) for free on digital anyway, because of a Cinemark offer of seeing this, Hustlers, and Countdown. I guarantee you my enjoyment of this film has nothing to do with the fact that I would be receiving a free digital copy of it down the line when it releases to purchase at home. I just wish the movie would’ve been titled something cheesier, such as Manhattan Closed or New York Morning or Manhattan Siege or Cop Killer Takedown or Early Morning Manhattan, or Island Escape or a hundred of other titles that could’ve added to some of that sweet sweet nostalgic over-the-top-ness. 21 Bridges is just a very generic title. Thank God the movie wasn’t so much so.