Fresh off his wooden turn in Les Miserables, Russell Crowe hits the big screen again this week in Broken City, the latest from Allen Hughes, half of the acclaimed Hughes Brothers team. It’d too easy to call it a broken movie, but when it’s right there in the title, it’s hard to resist. At least Crowe never sings, though, so there’s that.
Part crime drama, part political caper, Broken City does neither particularly well. Plot holes abound, and despite the high stakes (there’s a body count, billions of dollars in corrupt funds, and a mayoral election at stake), the movie lands with a particularly loud thud. Sure there’s sound and fury, but it all pretty much amounts to nothing.
On the eve of his re-election, Mayor Nick Hostetler (Crowe) hires former NYPD cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) to investigate who’s schtupping the mayor’s wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Thing is, Taggart has a past. We learn at the outset that he killed a rapist/murderer in cold blood, and though he was cleared in the subsequent investigation, he was dismissed from the force and now works as a private investigator.
Everyone in the theater, I imagine, smelled a set-up immediately, so why a seasoned cop couldn’t is a bit of a mystery. And of course, by the time Billy clues in, it’s too late. People are getting executed in the street, corruption is being exposed, and car chases and fist fights become the order of the day.
There are glimmers of hope in Broken City. There’s a bit of a Wall Street vibe, as a peon tries to stand up to a megalomaniac, but ultimately it fizzles away, just as entire plot lines disappear without a trace, too; Taggart’s girlfriend (Natalie Martinez), for example, vanishes from the story halfway through. Odd, since so much of the first half focuses on their relationship and even spends a wildly inordinate amount of time on her career as an indie film actress.
Wahlberg, who lit up the screen in movies like The Fighter, Contraband, and The Other Guys seems to be sleepwalking through this one– especially unforgivable since he also is credited as a producer. If there’s one bright spot, it’s Alona Tal as Taggart’s trusty assistant, but even her scene-stealing performance isn’t enough to keep Broken City together.
Ultimately the shortcomings can be traced back to the pedestrian script by first-timer Brian Tucker, but Hughes shares a lot of the blame, too. It’s hard to take something that, on paper, should be fairly riveting and make it lackluster, but Broken City does a bang-up job of it.