By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Broken City is broken.
Not worthless, not insulting, not dreadful. Just broken.
And that’s because although the film has the surface elements that should make for a diverting entertainment –- watchable cast, plenty of plot, conflict galore –- the gears never quite mesh.
Broken City is a gritty contemporary crime drama about greed and corruption that uses its surface narrative as a come-on, but strays into preposterousness so often that it has us muttering, “Come on,” more than a few times.
Mark Wahlberg stars as Billy Taggart, an ex-NYPD cop who was more or less forced off the force, now working as a private eye in Staten Island.
He’s summoned back to Manhattan by Nicholas Hostetler, the charismatic mayor of New York City (played by Russell Crowe) who is running for re-election. He hires Taggart to find out whether his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair and if so, with whom. And Taggart sees it as an opportunity not only to make some much-needed money, but as a form of redemption for past transgressions.
But in the course of his investigation, Taggart realizes that he’s just a pawn on the chessboard of a much larger scandal involving political corruption.
Among the supporting ensemble, Barry Pepper plays the mayor’s mayoral opponent, Kyle Chandler his campaign manager, Jeffrey Wright the police commissioner, Natalie Martinez as Billy’s ex, and Alon Tal as his assistant.
Director Allen Hughes, who has heretofore co-directed with his twin brother Albert (Menace II Society, From Hell, Dead Presidents, American Pimp, The Book of Eli), strikes out on his own. His style this time out seems calmer, less flashy.
But the script has holes you could drive a car through, which Hughes attempts to do in an extended car chase scene, and the film offers surprisingly little if any suspense.
Brian Tucker’s debut screenplay is plump with plot but skimpy when it comes to convincing character motivations. Consequently, there’s lots of arbitrary behavior that hasn’t been thought through, leaving the impression that the writer doesn’t really know the world of city politics that he’s writing about.
And the ending, stained with unfinished business, fails to satisfy.
No performer brings much to the party, political or otherwise, as Wahlberg returns from his recent successful dip in the comedy pool (Ted) to remind us of his drama/thriller credentials, Crowe bounces back from a problematic musical outing (Les Misérables), and Zeta-Jones barely has enough screen time to register to vote.
So we’ll corrupt 2 stars out of 4 for Broken City, a noirish thriller that’s farfetched, half-baked, and disconnected.