Something’s rotten in the core of the Big Apple, and Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones are all tangled up in the festering mess of politics, crime and corruption.
Unfortunately, a positive model for modern Manhattan progress isn’t the only thing busted in “Broken City,” which squanders its talented cast in a badly written, poorly plotted and clumsily acted tale in which virtually nothing seems to function smoothly — and, worse, none of it adds up to more than a hill of beans.
Wahlberg plays struggling private investigator Billy Taggert, whose career with the NYPD ended several years earlier after his trial for the questionable murder of a suspect resulted in his dismissal from the force. Now, with a big election coming up, the preening, powerful New York Mayor Hostetler (Crowe) wants to hire Taggert to find out who his lovely wife (Zeta-Jones) is sleeping with — before the press sniffs it out first.
It sounds simple enough, but in a movie like this, it’s not.
Especially when there are so many confounding twists, preposterous turns, ludicrous conversations and scenery-chewing performances to distract viewers from following what may, or may not, be going on.
Crowe, morphing his gruff Aussie burr into a man-of-the-people, Long Island brogue that for some reason rarely rises above a purr, comes across as a wisp of the venomous, super-crooked snake of a city official the movie wants us to believe he really is.
Wahlberg, who’s usually up for almost any kind of role, gamely steps into this one, stumbling around a convoluted, disjointed plot that perhaps made more sense to him when he saw the script than it does as a finished product.
Zeta-Jones looks glamorous as all get-out, but she and her character both seem stranded out of time, in movie that feels, looks and sounds like it’s pouting that it can’t be a smoldering 1940s pulp detective drama, instead of a modern-day crime thriller that needs to lure audiences into multiplexes alongside screens offering far more bang for the buck.
One of its most “exciting” scenes, a car-chase getaway, peters out pitifully after about 60 seconds. A mayoral debate, between Crowe’s smirking, old-money incumbent and his crusading challenger (Barry Pepper), is practically a parody of one of last fall’s presidential run-offs. And characters actually say lines of dialogue like “Sing-sing ain’t no place for guys with good hearts,” and “You’re cheap to hire, but cheaper to throw away.”
Much of the blame goes to the creative team of director Allen Hughes, working for the first time solo without his brother Albert, with whom he collaborated previously on “Menace II Society” and “The Book of Eli.” Writer Brian Tucker had never written a movie, or done anything in Hollywood, before — and it shows.
At one point, Crowe’s dishonest mayor discusses with a cohort planting some “dirty” press on his opponent, to muddy the pre-election waters. He’s asked if it will work, if it will stick.
“It won’t stick,” hizzoner says. “But it’ll smudge.”
If Crowe, Wahlberg, Zeta-Jones and everyone else in this botched blotch of a movie are lucky, “Broken City” will have the same effect — a temporary career smudge, instead of a permanent stain.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Broken City”
STARRING: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones
DIRECTED BY: Allen Hughes
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes