"Broken City" An Irreparable Bore

I’d like to think that a week or so into production, someone realized that “Broken City” wasn’t worth making. Perhaps a few producers in sweat-stained dress shirts had a few nerve-wracking late night conversations. “Do we keep going? I guess we could just tell everybody to go home.” Even if those words never left anyone’s lips, twinges of doubt should have crept up on every person that read the script, participated in rehearsals, or put up hard-earned money on the project. Why make this movie? Why bring in bona fide movie stars to act out a script that lives or dies (hint: it dies) by its substance and personality, or lack thereof? In an all-star game of political thrillers, “Broken City” wouldn’t be worthy of riding the pine. It’d be relegated to the nosebleeds, a lonesome spectator who slunk in on a counterfeit ticket, ultimately just happy to be there.

Mark Wahlberg has seen his share of lousy roles in subpar films, but he’s never been in anything this listless. The film’s lack of momentum can be partially attributed to his lethargic starring performance, but director Allen Hughes, writer Brian Tucker, and the rest of the cast and crew are just as culpable. Wahlberg plays a New York City cop, Billy Taggart, who gets off on a murder rap but is immediately dismissed from the force. Nevertheless, Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) hails him as a hero, and as soon we’ve flashed forward seven years, he offers the newly minted private investigator Taggart a job – to follow Mrs. Hostetler (Catherine Zeta-Jones) around, snapping pictures of her alleged marital indiscretions. A struggling Taggart accepts the job and the accompanying $50,000 payday without a moment’s hesitation.

The Mayor just happens to be up for re-election, running against an upstart idealist, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper). If the name wasn’t corny enough, Taggart comes to find that the Mayor’s wife is fooling around with Valliant’s campaign manager, Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler). Just when Billy is supposed to be shadowing Andrews, going out of his way not to be noticed, he sits next to his target on a shuttle to Montauk, asking Andrews if he’s a private eye. I couldn’t have dreamed up a dumber exchange if I had tried, but it’s to the credit of Wahlberg and Chandler that it’s one of the more interesting scenes in the film.

From there, we get bogged down in an enormously aggravating subplot about Taggart and his girlfriend, Natalie (played by Natalie Martinez), a budding indie film actress. The two have an extended fight about a love scene in her latest film and she abruptly leaves him, never to be seen again. These extraneous plot lines attempt to explain Billy’s past transgressions – the man he shot at the beginning of the picture had apparently raped and murdered Natalie’s sister – but the dialogue is so poorly written that we’re never entirely sure of Taggart’s motivations. Not even when his sordid past comes back to haunt him. “[Billy] was good to my family” is hardly a sentiment that suggests an endorsement of vigilante violence.

Unlike the enjoyable kind of bad movie, there’s no fervor, no joy here. Nothing about the portrayal of New York City paints it as unique from other American metropolises and the uninvolving nature of the Mayor’s arc (is he corrupt or not?) assumes major naivety on the part of the audience. Someone who’s never seen a political thriller or cop drama might be on the edge of his or her seat, but for everyone else, there’s nothing new here.

In the end, it’s one of the most nap-worthy movies I’ve seen in years. If you’ve had your fill of concessions, you’ll be tempted to nod off for long stretches of the film. If not, you’ll wish you had loaded up on concessions. “Broken City” is Allen Hughes’ first directorial effort without the aid of his brother, Albert Hughes. Together they’ve made some watchable films, including “From Hell” and “The Book Of Eli,” neither of which is terrible, but this one is dead on arrival. Its distinct straight-to-video vibe is immediately off-putting and it’s a scent that the picture never shakes. Neither Wahlberg nor Crowe appear to care, and it’s Jeffrey Wright (in a small role as the New York City Police Chief) who gets the only good line of the film – an absolute throwaway moment near the end, but funny nonetheless. The essence of “Broken City” is forgettable, and that’s its only strength. Once it’s over, you won’t be bothered to think about it ever again. I wish the same for the cast and crew.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★ (Bad)

Release Date: January 18, 2013
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Allen Hughes
Screenwriter: Brian Tucker
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Barry Pepper, Kyle Chandler
MPAA Rating: R (for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence)