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“Broken City” offers little to brighten the cockles of moviegoers’ hearts during this month that’s typically a vacuum for film lovers. While the actors make it watchable, it’s bogged down by cliches and predictable plot turns, and it is ultimately a familiar and forgettable political drama.
Director Allen Hughes — whose collaborations with his twin brother, Albert, include “Menace II Society,” “Dead Presidents” and “In Hell,” — continues to depict humans’ baser aspects in this solo effort, written by playwright Brian Tucker.
The story combines a redemptive journey with a small-scale David-and-Goliath tale, and it struggles for credibility in both areas.
Mark Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, a cop-turned-private eye with a streetwise style, an actress girlfriend (Natalie Martinez) he gave up the bottle for and a big blemish on his record.
In need of cash to keep his business going, Billy accepts a $50,000 paycheck from the city’s corrupt mayor, Nick Hostetler (Russell Crowe).
His assignment: Tail Hostetler’s wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and get the goods on the affair Hostetler insists she is having.
Intrigue occurs when the man Billy observes getting cozy with Cathleen turns out to be Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), the campaign manager of Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), Hostetler’s election rival.
Realizing the case is about far more than adultery and that Hostetler has duped him, Billy digs deeper and becomes mired in secrets, larceny and murder.
Also figuring into things is a city commissioner (Jeffrey Wright) who employs his own warped brand of justice and wants Billy to help him bring Hostetler down.
The movie isn’t a snoozer. Early scenes when Billy discovers the Cathleen-Paul link contain dramatic promise, and the cast supplies some juice.
Wahlberg is solid as the moral engine, and Billy’s confrontations with Crowe’s smarm-and-charm-oozing Hostetler have snap. The always excellent Wright brings a gold mine of shades to his character.
But there are few surprises and a lot that’s familiar: a car chase, Billy falling off the wagon, Billy looking at himself in the mirror, who-am-I-style.
Watching Billy’s moral dilemma unfold against a backdrop of New York corruption, it’s hard not to miss Sidney Lumet, whose treatment of such scenarios was so much sharper and superior.
Meanwhile, the female characters, who include Billy’s devoted assistant (Alona Tal), are mere plot devices. And the ample amount of screen time given to the issue of vigilante justice seems to want to let Billy off the hook for his offenses.
Enough said. Unless you can’t resist a so-so political thriller, sit this one out. While Hughes manages to keep the cynicism level up, the noirish title is as dark as things get.
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