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Front Page - Friday, November 29, 2019

Lack of tension, plot holes take toll on ‘21 Bridges’

“21 Bridges” is an action thriller in which an NYPD detective locks down the island of Manhattan to locate a pair of cop killers. It’s also a movie that must have read better on paper than it plays on the screen.

The film’s concept is interesting. After a pair of small-time hoods mow down several cops while stealing cocaine hidden in a restaurant, Detective Andre Davis orders every bridge, tunnel, subway and other access route blocked to prevent the men from escaping.

That still gives Davis nearly 23 square miles of tightly packed real estate to scour before his 5 a.m. deadline, but this doesn’t faze him, as he has a preternatural ability to look at a crime scene and intuit precisely what happened.

Davis also has a reputation for being trigger-happy, even though he insists every one of his nine kills was justified. In the eyes of his colleagues in law enforcement, who are eager to put down the cop killers, this makes him the perfect man for the job.

The audience, however, knows better, thanks to an early scene in which Davis visits his elderly mother and is shown tenderly caring for her.

While this is a sweet scene, “21 Bridges” would have benefited from a little ambiguity where Davis is concerned. Once I knew he wasn’t who everyone thought he was, the rest of the story sprung open in my head like a coiled ribbon.

That rarely happens. I’m like Seinfeld, who does a funny stand-up bit about not being able to understand the plot in movies. To the dismay of my wife, I’m the guy who’s always leaning over during detective movies and asking, “Who was that guy? Why did they kill him?”

So, if I’m able to foresee what happens in a thriller, then the movie doesn’t mask its secrets well.

“21 Bridges” has other issues, such as how easily things come for Davis, who’s played by Chadwick Boseman of “Black Panther” fame. I can accept his Sherlock Holmes-like ability to solve a problem simply by looking at it, but there are too many moments of convenience, where the unlikely thing Davis needs to happen is precisely what happens.

With this in mind, I should backpedal on my claim of knowing everything that would happen because I didn’t expect the perps to run by Davis while he was looking for them. That might have propelled the story forward, but it took me out of the movie.

I also found it difficult to forgive the almost immediate appearance of police at every access point in the city (including on the water and in the air) after Davis receives permission to shut down the borough. Then again, that’s one of those things you have to give a movie for it to work.

An unforgiveable issue, however, is the lack of tension. After the murders, the FBI gives Davis only a handful of hours to locate the killers before they snatch the case out of the NYPD’s hands. This led me to expect a nail-biting showdown with the clock, but other than the time occasionally popping up in the lower right corner of the screen, the deadline is never mentioned again.

Neither are the 21 bridges after which the movie is named. The filmmakers had some intriguing ideas but did nothing with them.

As uninspiring as “21 Bridges” is, the movie goes a long way toward redeeming itself during its final 30 minutes. There’s a visually exciting chase through buildings, streets and a subway car, and even though I had figured out the twist long before it unraveled, the final scenes are so well done, I momentarily forgot my indifference about the rest of the film.

I do believe the character of Davis has potential and would buy a ticket to a sequel focused on Boseman’s portrayal of him, but I doubt enough people are going to be drawn to seeing this by-the-book detective flick to make that an option.