Directed by: Allen Hughes
Written by: Brian Tucker
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Alona Tal, Jeffrey Wright and Barry Pepper
Broken City doesn’t have anything we haven’t seen before. Greed, power and political corruption run amok in the city of Brooklyn in this quasi-thriller from director Allen Hughes (in his first foray into direction without brother Albert). The film feels awfully familiar, but the cast is fun to watch, and if you are looking for mindless January entertainment after feasting on all the December Oscar bait, this should suffice. No brain activity required.
Mark Wahlberg plays ex-cop Billy Taggart, who was forced to retire from the police force seven years prior for shooting a rapist, even though many officials were secretly glad the thug had been brought to justice. Now Billy barely makes ends meet as a low-end private investigator, until he is summoned to the Mayor Hostetler’s (Russell Crowe) office for a job offering a big payout. Hostetler (at the tail end of a run for re-election) believes that his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair, and wants Billy to provide documentation of the alleged tryst. What Billy uncovers instead is a widespread conspiracy involving a plan to develop an area of the projects into high-end buildings and real estate. Zzzzzz.
Nothing is as it seems in Broken City, and the film tries to keep you guessing, but if you spend too much time trying to guess the outcome, you’ll have it figured out in no time. With a lesser cast, the film would be even more forgettable, but the there are some borderline campy performances here that keep things mildly interesting. The icy exchanges between Hostetler and his wife provide for some quippy dialogue, and I actually enjoyed Zeta-Jones quite a bit during her limited screen time. Billy’s assistant is played by small-screen star Alona Tal, who lights up the screen whenever she spars with her sullen boss. She has great comedic timing, and shows some promising screen presence.
A messy (and unwarranted) back story involving Billy’s past as an alcoholic is thrown into the story, apparently for character development, but when he falls off the wagon things become downright ridiculous. After drowning his sorrows in copious quantities of Jameson’s Whiskey and promptly hitting the liquor store on his way home, he is magically snapped out of an alcohol-infused stupor when he gets a phone call throwing him into the investigation again. Sorry, it just doesn’t work that way. Why show Billy stumbling drunk if he’s just going to snap into sobriety when the need arises? Why bother with his alcoholism at all? It would have been a lot more interesting if his condition messed with our perceptions of what was actually happening on screen.
Barry Pepper’s political challenger for the mayoral race receives equally awkward treatment, with a WTF revelation that leads nowhere. It’s almost as though (first-time) writer Brian Tucker had a checklist of everything he wanted to throw in the film, and he did just that, without rhyme or reason. It’s a nonsensical story.
I think we are all in agreement that politics is a dirty game. At this point, a movie featuring a bunch of politicians who are squeaky clean and morally sound would be much more entertainment than the crap slung out by Hollywood on a regular basis. But hey, you get to see Russell Crowe in one of the worst spray tans ever shown on screen when his character appears in a debate. That counts for something. Not much, mind you, but something. – Shannon