Russell Crowe follows up an iffy musical performance with an unfortunate dramatic role in Broken City, a story of crime and political corruption that makes Law & Order look like The Wire.
And not good, Jerry Orbach and Sam Waterson Law & Order but tabloidy Mariska Hargitay Law & Order.
Broken City is not afraid to use real life tragedy to create cheap movie cred. The opening scene gives us a young, be-hoodied man lying on the street and a man with a gun standing over him. Unlike the real world event the movie is riffing on, the shooter here is a cop, Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg). He claims that the dead man drew on him and that, despite an acquittal, he’s the man who raped and murdered a teenage girl.
You’re a hero, Mayor Hostetler (Crowe) tells Taggart, but you’re a hero against whom some really good evidence that this wasn’t self-defense has surfaced. So Hostetler and Police Chief Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) accept the resignation Billy didn’t plan on giving and Billy, who was just himself acquitted, disappears to the sad land of private investigations, where his days and nights are spent taking photos of unfaithful spouses.
Seven years hence, Billy is trying desperately to collect payment for these services (seriously, a credit card before the photos of cheating husbands are handed over — how hard is that?). He lives with Natalie (Natalie Martinez), an aspiring actress, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be taking any trips to the Caribbean (or even, like, camping) anytime soon. So when Mayor Hostetler, now running for a third term, hands him a check for $25,000, Billy takes it and the job, which is: follow Hostetler’s wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and find out who she’s having an affair with.
But is she having an affair? Billy sees her meet a man but, after a conversation with Cathleen, isn’t sure that what he saw is really what it appeared to be.
Meanwhile, Hostetler’s uncreatively named opponent, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), is vowing to clean up the corruption of the mayor’s administration, starting with giving a second look to a plan to sell a track of housing projects to a buyer likely to turn them into higher end properties.
Actually, that last point is, I think, a spoiler, although (1) duh and (2) it is one of several lame reveals in this lame little movie. I hate to always go to this place but really, people who made Broken City, have you never seen Boss? That Starz series about the mayor of Chicago — which, like Spartacus, seemed more interested in exciting new uses of nudity than story development — did the whole politicians-with-a-secret storyline just as tawdry but so much more entertainingly. And not just because of the random boobs. Broken City acts as if no TV show, no movie about corruption in city politics has ever existed before. Read any metro section any day of any city newspaper and you are already too jaded to be surprised by the dull “twists” of this stale story. Forget premium cable dramas, Spin City seems more real world than this bunch of malarkey.
And not only is it just generally bad for a movie to bore its audience, but it’s particularly bad in a movie like this, one with such silly performances. Mouth open, eyes wide “well, go-lly” is how I would characterize most of these performances — Wahlberg’s in particular (maybe take a break from everything that requires holding a gun or showing a badge, there, guy, and stick to Ted-type films). Zeta-Jones seems like her character’s direction for every scene was “you’re angry for now particular reason and a little winded.” Crowe’s was probably something like “if you do this scene, well give you this week’s paycheck.”
Broken City feels like a skill-free adaptation of mediocre airport novel. C-
Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence. Directed by Allen Hughes and written by Brian Tucker, Broken City is an hour and 49 minutes long and distributed by 20th Century Fox.