[Screen It]


(2013) (Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe) (R)

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Crime Thriller: A private investigator is hired by the Mayor of New York to investigate his wife's infidelity, and the case leads to revelations of political corruption.
Billy Taggart (MARK WAHLBERG) has worked as a low-level private investigator in New York City ever since he lost his job as a cop in the wake of a high-profile, racially charged shooting that never went to trial. Behind on his bills, Billy accepts an invitation to meet with New York Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (RUSSELL CROWE), who offers him $50,000 to find evidence that his wife, Cathleen (CATHERINE ZETA-JONES), is cheating on him.

Hostetler is in the last leg of a reelection campaign and is vying with a feisty rival named Jack Valliant (BARRY PEPPER), who is hammering him over a real estate deal that got the city out of debt. Hostetler is beholden to a father-and-son development team in the deal by the name of Sam and Todd Lancaster (GRIFFIN DUNNE and JAMES RANSONE, respectively), who are locked in a power struggle of their own. Billy, meanwhile, discovers that Cathleen is indeed having secret meetings with Paul Andrews (KYLE CHANDLER), Valliant's campaign manager. He soon learns that this "affair" is tied in with the crooked property deal in ways that could bring down the city government.

At the same time, Billy is dealing with jealousy issues regarding his actress girlfriend, Natalie (NATALIE MARTINEZ), while he has a love-hate relationship with his no-nonsense assistant, Katy (ALONA TAL). And he frequently clashes with Police Commissioner Carl Fairbanks (JEFFREY WRIGHT), who suspects Billy might hold the key to cleaning up his "broken city" once and for all.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
I checked the MPAA rating prior to previewing "Broken City" just to see what I was in for. Within the description, it read "rated R for pervasive language." And if ever a film was in love with the "F" word, it's this one! I counted 57, because that's my job. But most of those 57 were laughable. Why say seemingly innocuous lines like "What does that mean?" or "What is this? or "Stay off the phone" when you can be all tough and say "What the f*ck does that mean?" or "What the f*ck is this?" or "Stay off the f*cking phone!" The film is going to be high comedy when it comes to broadcast TV with all of the F words changed to "freak" and "freakin'" and "friggin'." That will be the best time to watch this one, but not in theaters.

"Broken City" isn't a bad movie. Just an unremarkable one. It plays like imitation Sidney Lumet. It's full of tough-talking corrupt cops, politicians, and businessmen from the big city. They have names like Taggart, Valliant, Hostetler, and Lancaster. They grab fistfuls of cotton and put it in their mouths to get just that right tone and inflection in their "New Yawk" accents.

It's a potboiler, for sure, that starts off promisingly when the Mayor of New York, Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe), hires disgraced ex-cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) to investigate his cheating wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and bring him pictures of her infidelity. Billy soon learns that she is marking time with Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), the campaign manager of Hostetler's election-year rival, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper). But Billy soon deduces that the relationship is not sexual, but instead holds the key to a corrupt land deal that could bring down City Hall.

When "Broken City" is focused and simple, it's pretty darn absorbing. When it moves out of its three-character drama of Crowe/Wahlberg/Zeta-Jones, it turns unfocused and lazy. Director Allen Hughes and screenwriter Brian Tucker muddle the specifics of the crooked development scheme, and they throw about two or three names too many into the mix to confuse even the most alert viewers. Subplots involving Billy's actress-girlfriend (Nataline Martinez) starring in her first indie movie and a surprise revelation about Valliant add nothing to the main plot and should have been excised altogether.

About two-thirds of the way through, Tucker makes an almost unforgivable script error in that it basically just gives up on the investigative angle of the plot and drops key evidence right into Billy's lap. Seriously! Billy pulls up to the offices of the evil commercial real estate firm just as its scowling employees are literally putting a box of incriminating papers into the garbage outside. The box might as well been stamped "Evil Land Deal Blueprints That Will Help Convict the Mayor." Billy then peeks in an office window just at the time two characters are having an argument that leads Billy to the other proof he needs.

On the positive side, I did find the film watchable for the most part. Wahlberg is solid as the cop with a dark secret to hide, and Crowe clearly relishes playing a baddie here eager to exploit that secret. Jeffrey Wright is in the film, too, as a Police Commissioner who knows where all the bodies are buried, having thrown dirt on a few of them himself. So, if the flick is on cable one rainy, flu-ravaged afternoon at your house, this will hold your interest for the most part. But don't be surprised afterwards if you don't mutter, "I'm really glad I didn't f*cking pay to see that one." I rate it a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)

Reviewed January 15, 2013 / Posted January 18, 2013

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