Broken City (review)

Broken City red light Russell Crowe Mark Wahlberg

I’m “biast” (pro): really like Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the script for Broken City — by otherwise uncredited newbie Brian Tucker — had been sitting around, unproduced, for 20 years, it’s that musty in too many incomprehensible ways. Not the noirish vibe it opens with: gritty urban crime drama never goes out of style. But the things it chooses to be gritty and cynical about are odd and outdated, as if the sorts of corruption on display here were unexpected or shocking, while it lets hints of potential scandals that would have been far more modern and could have been much more deliciously, chessily salacious — or even genuinely unsettling and shocking — slide past without even noticing them. New York City mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe: Les Misérables) is expecting easy reelection in a few days when he brings in disgraced cop turned cheap PI Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg: Ted) to do his usual thing: get pix of the city’s First Lady (Catherine Zeta-Jones: Rock of Ages) with the lover Hostetler knows she’s sneaking out to see. Of course there’s much more going on than meets our eye, or Taggart’s… but what it is isn’t all that interesting. And how it plays out devolves into a muddled mess of confused motives, such as the scene in which Taggart finds himself in a situation with the police commissioner (Jeffrey Wright: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), whom he previously couldn’t stand to be in the same room with and now appears to be operating in tandem with him as if the two men were partners of longstanding who shared an almost telepathic link; it made me honestly wonder if entire important scenes had been deleted. But the most puzzling mustiness comes from the complete lack of any appreciation on the part of the screenwriter or director Allen Hughes (who apparently went uncredited on The Book of Eli) that this story is happening in 20-teens New York. Crowe’s apparent attempts to channel Rudy Giuliani might be okay if the city here didn’t also feel very 90s-ish, and very pre-9/11. I don’t recognize this New York except as a distant memory, and I barely recognize two actors — Crowe and Wahlberg — who are usually a lot more engaging than what they give us here. I’d love to see them together again in a movie that deserves them.

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