Visit Broken City if you don’t have anything better to do
‘Broken City’ has some funny lines and a delightfully hammy performance from Russell Crow, but it’s the same gritty NYC crime movie you’ve already seen a hundred time.
Sometimes all you really want to do is lose yourself in a world of muted colors and confusing morality, a world where everyone is corrupt and dames got gams to nowheresville (or something like that). Broken City tries to immerse you in a dark, mysterious city of complexity and murder, but it ultimately feels pretty typical. The movie primarily focuses on William “Billy” Taggert (Mark Wahlberg at his most Mark Wahlberg-iest), a disgraced former New York City cop now working as a private investigator (which means taking pictures of cheating spouses). Poor Billy killed a criminal that got off the hook, but that did end up getting him a beautiful girlfriend — the sister of the criminal’s victim. After seven years, Billy gets hired by slick mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe, hamming it up admirably) to follow the mayor’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones, perfect for the role) and take photos. That’s all he’s good for anymore, right? Wait, wait, I’m inserting more complexity than the movie ends up having. Sorry.
It’s all because there’s a mayoral election coming up, the mayor facing off against ludicrously “decent” Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), having the silliest apt name since Jean-Claude Van Damme’s evil Vilain from last year’s The Expendables 2 (The Expendablest). Kyle Chandler plays Valliant’s campaign manager, who may be up to something, and Jeffrey Wright plays the police commissioner, who also might be up to something. As you might expect, Billy bites off more than he expects and gets involved in some classic real estate scams, murder, car chases, and romantic troubles, all set in the classically dark aesthetic you’d expect from something trying to be a classic noir, hard-boiled detective tale. Unfortunately, the mystery ends up being both overly simplistic and overly complicated. Real estate is boring already, and the movie tries and fails to make it interesting.
The problem with the movie is really that it’s trying to be better than it can handle. Subplots about alcoholism and the acting debut of Billy’s girlfriend are intended to add pathos, but ultimately add “so … what’s the point again?”. Kyle Chandler, doing the best acting in the movie, is also in it the least. Nearly everyone is doing a fun job acting in their expected roles here, predictable though they are, but the movie gets more and more predictable and flat as it goes. If it just embraced the silliness inherent in itself, that’d be a different thing altogether. But it’s trying so hard to be an important, complex story, and totally fails at that. Mark Wahlberg works better when he doesn’t need to express complicated emotions, like when he’s working with his pretty great assistant (Alona Tal).
Sure, there are some funny lines and some winning performances. But really, the movie’s biggest crime is being forgettable. You won’t hate yourself or the movie after leaving, but you just won’t particularly care about it. It’s like a pastiche of detective and crime thrillers all thrown together, decent moments without anything meaty behind it. Not terrible, but just … okay.