Planted smack-dab in the middle of the January dumping season - where cinematic stinkers are unleashed to dirty the elbows of Oscar hopefuls - Broken City is slotted exactly where it belongs. And this one’s certainly not vying for Oscar attention. So, exactly how does a film featuring a cast decorated with no fewer than 2 Oscar wins and four nominations find itself feeding from the trough of obscurity? Let’s examine.
First, there’s the plot from the script of first-timer Brian Tucker, which gets off to an interesting enough start - with notes and hints of a classic neo-noir thriller that might have starred Humphrey Bogart back in the day - before self-imploding in a pile of twists, double-crosses, and dark secrets that never find a comforting home in the framework of the tale. It’s one of those “the entire system is corrupt” plots that hammers that message too hard while simultaneously not having enough to say about the message.
Mark Wahlberg is disgraced New York City police detective Billy Taggert who was acquitted of murder charges when he went too far while investigating a murder. Now he’s a private investigator, barely making ends meet before a call from the mayor offers Taggert an opportunity to regain not only his badge, but his reputation as well.
Seems Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) thinks his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair but is more concerned about what the leaked news might do to his sinking re-election plans. As Taggert digs deeper into the investigation, he soon discovers there’s much more to the case than a cheating spouse. As the clarity of who is the good guy and who is the bad begins to blur, so devolves the plot into a molten soup of murky political sub-plots and shady land deals that feel more like padding than totally fleshed out and sound plot points. All too often, the characters, who were initially given plenty of time to marinate, do things completely out of character simply because there was no other way to advance the storyline. As a result, the investigation, and its subsequent conclusion lack the cumulative impact of a weighty thriller.
Then there’s the spotty machine-gun dialogue that too often feels hammy and overly chit-chatty despite delivery from a veteran cast. Sure, it harkens back to the noir classics when calling a P.I. “cut rate” was part of the jargon of the day, but here it’s used too inconsistently to feel at home in the modern day setting.
Allen Hughes, half of the Hughes Brothers directing tandem responsible for 1993’s Menace II Society and 2010’s The Book of Eli goes it alone this time and surprisingly keeps things interesting for the most part until the script’s shortcomings let the proceedings down. Hughes’s vision is once again a gritty one with a conflicted protagonist in the lead, but a bit more action and a swifter pace would be welcome for no other reason than to keep us from wondering where things went so wrong. Though it’s not a long film at only 109 minutes, it feels much more tedious than it actually is. It’s never boring, but neither is it particularly engaging.
January’s graveyard is a perfect resting place for this DOA snoozer. Those wanting an alternative to low-budget horror flicks, Schwarzenegger-led geriatric actioners, and aging Oscar fare have a place to go. Just don’t expect much more than an anemic paint-by-numbers faux-noir potboiler. And those still smarting from last fall’s bruising presidential campaign won’t get much relief from the ripped-from-the-headlines issues likes balanced budgets, tax burdens, and schmaltzy campaign slogans.
MPAA Rating: R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence.
Runtime: 109 mins.
Director: Allen Hughes
Writer: Brian Tucker
Cast: Russell Crowe; Mark Wahlberg; Catherine Zeta-Jones; Jeffrey Wright; Barry Pepper
Genre: Crime | Thriller
Tagline: Proof can be a powerful weapon
Memorable Movie Quote: "You ever do any hunting? You would be a natural."
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Official Site: www.brokencitymovie.com
Release Date: January 18, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available
Synopsis: Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) has a promising career as a New York City cop until the night he is involved in a controversial shooting. Stripped of his badge, but kept out of jail by New York's popular Mayor (Russell Crowe), he re-makes himself as a private investigator.
Times are tough, and when the mayor offers Billy $50,000 to investigate the First Lady's (Catherine Zeta Jones) extra-marital activities, it seems like a straight forward payday. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes apparent that the Mayor is not at all what he seems, and for Billy to achieve redemption he will have to risk everything -- possibly even his freedom.