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Movie Review: Broken City (2013)

Updated on October 3, 2013

Director: Allen Hughes
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Natalie Martinez, Alona Tol, Barry Pepper, Kyle Chandler

Broken City is the sort of film where a seven year sober PI falls off the wagon after fighting with his girlfriend, drinks himself silly, and then miraculously sobers up in the blink of an eye as soon as he's called to a crime scene. It's also the sort of the film where a police commissioner will scold an officer accused of murdering a rape suspect, but will then instruct that very same officer to hold a mayoral candidate's face down in a tub of water when said candidate refuses to answer his questions. The screenplay by Brian Tucker is so nutty that it sort of holds you in fascination: you almost want to see if the film can get any sillier as it goes along, and sure enough, it does.

Make no mistake about it, Broken City is one of the silliest films of recent memory, made all the more so because director Allen Hughes treats it all so seriously. Of course, "silly" doesn't necessarily mean bad, or boring. The performances here are better than what the material deserves. The actors on screen work hard to sell the story, even as the increasingly ludicrous nature of the story keeps viewers at arm's length. Because the actors do their jobs well, the movie becomes a lot more engaging than it otherwise would have been. That's not to say the film's worth a trip to the theaters, but it might make for a decent rental when it finally hits your local Red Box.

Mark Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, a New York City cop who was involved in a controversial shooting seven years earlier. He was exonerated for the crime, yet because there was some damaging evidence covered up by Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), who considered Billy a hero, he was forced to turn in his shield to prevent any further investigation in the matter. Now, Billy is a private eye suffering from serious financial woes. Many of his previous clients are either reluctant to pay him or simply refuse, and in one of the most lively sequences in the film, he and his assistant Katy (Alona Tal) call up their clients and demand the money they owe.

Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg in "Broken City"
Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg in "Broken City"

They both catch a break when Hostetler hires Billy to keep tabs on his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) when he suspects her of infidelity. Hostetler is in the middle of a tight mayoral race with an opponent named, and I am not making this up, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), and he can't afford to have the story of his wife's extramarital affairs reaching the papers. So, for a nice sum of $50,000, the mayor wants him to take pictures of and identify his wife's lover. Of course, Billy is more than willing to take on the job. And, of course, Nothing Is What It Seems.

There is another subplot in the film, one that is so superfluous you can't help but wonder who in the heck decided it belonged in the film. Billy's girlfriend Natalie (Natalie Martinez) is an actress who has just landed a role in her "very first indie film." In her introductory scene, it's established that she's still shooting the film. It's curious, then, that the premiere of her film is only a week away, but never mind. Billy sees the film (which looks hideous, by the way), is turned off by its pornographic nature, accuses her of having an affair with the actor she did it with (played by an obnoxious Justin Chambers), etc. What does this subplot have to do with the rest of the movie? Absolutely nothing. It serves no purpose except to pad out the film's running time. Excising it from the film would have given the filmmakers more time to develop the story better.

Broken City marks director Allen Hughes' first film without the collaboration of his brother Albert, and it's not a badly made film. The movie has an eye-catching autumnal flourish, and aside from the dreary subplot about Billy's girlfriend, it moves at a fairly brisk clip. There are entertaining segments sprinkled throughout, including a car chase late in the picture as well as a televised debate between Hostetler and Valliant. The performances are, as mentioned, good across the board. Wahlberg is solid as Billy, bringing a certain amount of charm to what is otherwise an unlikable character (He's the sort of character who would sneak up behind a perp, shoot him in the leg, and try to claim it was an accident. Uh-huh!), and Crowe turns in an entertainingly over-the-top performance as Hostetler. Jeffrey Wright does just fine as a police commissioner with his own agenda, and Pepper and Zeta-Jones are commendable in what are otherwise bit parts. The best performance is easily turned in by Alona Tal, who brings a lot of spunk and energy to the role of Billy's assistant Katy. I look forward to seeing more of her in the future.

Broken City has one of those plots that gets dopier the more you think about it, and it is because of that I do not recommend seeing the film in theaters. However, when it hits DVD, and there's no other titles to rent at the Red Box, and you're in for something goofy yet well-acted, this might fit the bill. Broken City is not a good movie by any means, but that doesn't mean it isn't an entertaining one.


** ½
out of (****)

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