By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic
Arriving with the breathless news that corruption exists in urban government, “Broken City” tries to arrange a little social comment around a thriller.
Not just any urban government, either: the big one, New York, the city that tends to stand in for all other cities in the East Coast-centric imagination of moviemakers. Something’s rotten in the Big Apple, and this movie needs you to understand that.
Our muddied hero is Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), former NYPD, now private eye. Busted from the force after a questionable shooting, he’s tapped by Mr. Mayor (Russell Crowe) for a bit of marital surveillance.
The mayor’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) might be playing around on the side. But — as you probably suspected — this bit of sleazy investigation will be the beginning of a much larger swamp of problems.
Oh, and the whole thing takes place in the week before the election, a close race with the incumbent facing down a dangerous newcomer (Barry Pepper, whose hair is not credible for a big-city mayoral candidate but who is otherwise very good).
You can see in first-timer Brian Tucker’s screenplay an attempt to create a biting criticism of a system in which politicians are too cozy with corporations, complete with a few tart one-liners on that subject.
But the film is so convinced that we’ll be blown away by this revelation that it comes off as naive. Director Allen Hughes (who has spent most of his career making movies with his twin sibling, as the Hughes Brothers) has us by the lapels, and his overemphatic way of pushing a scene hard is going to make sure we get every point.
Most viewers will get the point just from the amount of bronzer worn by Crowe’s buttery mayor. Crowe plays the role as though he were merging the DNA of former NYC mayors Rudy Giuliani and Ed Koch, and he has a much better time than any other actor in the movie.
Mark Wahlberg’s stuck in a glum mode, which he does reasonably well. Periodic attempts to lighten him up by feeding him a 007-style witticism are ill-advised, to say the least, and don’t sit well with revelations about the darker nature of his character.
Perhaps a longer version of this movie would fill out the margins with juicy character bits, but in 109 minutes (which still feels overlong) only the reliable Jeffrey Wright comes through with a nicely sweet-sour turn as the police commissioner.
I always wonder whether this kind of torn-from-headlines movie achieves its apparent goals — to shake people into an awareness of crooked politics — or if it just reinforces the sense that everything’s rigged and you might as well not trust anybody anyway. I suspect it might be the latter response, which is another good reason to tear up “Broken City” and try this movie again from scratch.
“Broken City” (2 stars)
Mark Wahlberg’s the private eye checking out the wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) of the NYC mayor (Russell Crowe, in plenty of bronzer). This leads to the revelation of some very predictable corruption in official circles, which this ham-handed movie wants you to appreciate in no uncertain terms. It feels overlong even at 109 minutes, and the actors don’t have much of a chance.
Rated: R for violence, language.
Showing: Alderwood Mall, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Pacific Place, Sundance, Thornton Place, Woodenville, Cascade Mall.