Broken City is a scattered drama that can’t be bothered to play by its own rules making for an uneven, inconsistent viewing experience.
New York City cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg, Ted) was acquitted of murder due to a lack of evidence, but his tarnished reputation prompts Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe, Les Misérables) and Police Commissioner Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright, Quantum of Solace) to force him to resign.
Seven years later, Billy is a private eye peeking in windows to battle mounting bills. Fortunately he has some stability with his longtime girlfriend Natalie, (Natalie Martinez, End of Watch) and trusty assistant, Katie (Alona Tal), fielding calls and offering a supportive snarky remark.
Hostetler calls Billy up, seeking his aid to track down the man sleeping with his wife, Cathleen (a bland role for Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rock of Ages). With days before the mayoral election and a tough challenge from Councilman Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), Hostetler doesn’t want word to get out that his wife is sleeping around, but Billy soon comes to regret his partnership and tries to get to determine Hostetler’s real plan.
Broken City marks newcomer Brian Tucker’s debut screenplay and his lack of polish and experience shows. He has the framework for a good movie, but can’t weave the threads together for a logical narrative seemingly taking subplots from better movies and awkwardly trying to make them fit. He takes the time to establish the characters’ mindset, but realizes he painted himself in a corner and has them do something completely out of character in order to keep the plot moving.
So when Billy suspects Valliant’s aide — Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler, Zero Dark Thirty) — of sleeping with Catherine, Billy doesn’t bother doing the thorough investigation we observed him doing earlier simply because it would ruin the movie for Billy to be competent at that point.
Luckily for Billy, the other characters are just as equally brilliant/stupid depending on how convenient it is for Tucker. Not so lucky for the audience as Tucker hopes we ignore the character inconsistencies and just go along with whatever changes he throws at us from one scene to the next.
Allen Hughes goes solo this time and handles the directing without the second half of The Hughes Brothers team — his brother, Albert, but Broken City retains that Hughes Brothers feel with a conflicted protagonist, up close perspective of gritty street life and untouchable villain.
I like Wahlberg enough, but his tough-guy characters are starting to blend together at this point. As I watched him here, I kept thinking how he would have made for a better Jack Reacher than Tom Cruise as that role played more to his strengths.
The film’s January release seems odd as its political focus seems dated on the heels of a draining presidential campaign season. I can’t be the only one politicked-out and not ready to sit through another debate — real or fake — anytime soon.
To Crowe’s credit, he plays a charismatic sleazy politician so perfectly I’d probably vote for him, but there’s no way I’d back Broken City, a film that deserves no such endorsement.
Rating: 2 out of 10
Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox
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