Broken City opens with Mark Wahlberg as NYC officer Billy Daggert standing over a young black man with a bullet between the eyes. From there, the black community furiously protests about police brutality outside of the courthouse, but it’s not enough as Daggert walks when there’s not enough evidence for the case to go to trial. Immediately, Mayor Hostetler, who looks like a store-bought tan with legs and perfectly coiffed hair, played by Russell Crowe, invites Daggert to his office accompanied by the mysterious commissioner Fairbanks, played by the ever intimidating Jeffrey Wright. The Mayor tells Daggert he’s going to have to take him off the force, but in his books, he’s a hero; that he won’t forget.
Cut to seven years later, Daggert is now a private dick, but still sweetheart enough that he doesn’t always make his clients pay up front; Tucker and director Allen Hughes (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, The Book of Eli) give us a money collection sequence that serves to inform us that Daggert ain’t so bad, and to introduce us to his sassy but naive blonde assistant Katy (lona Tal) for a couple of textbook noir tricks.
What Broken City does have is a solid cast. Advertised as a corruption thriller that pits Mark Wahlberg versus Russell Crowe, the two are strong, with Crowe especially redeeming himself with scene-chewing gusto after his much maligned performance in Les Miserables. In addition, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, and Kyle Chandler earn their paychecks.
Catherine Zeta-Jones gives weight as the politician’s wife who has to put on the happy face for the N.Y. cameras.
What this cast isn’t supported with is a tight script from newcomer screenwriter Brian Tucker. Broken City suffers from trying to be too clever for it’s own good- squeezing in every noir mystery running through Tucker’s brain, while simultaneously not being intelligent enough to put its characters in believable situations.
With re-election looming in a week’s time against a do-gooder opponent (Tucker makes SURE we know he is a good guy, giving him a name like Jack Valliant *eye roll*), Hostetler saves Daggert from his financial woes by cutting him a big fat check to find out who his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is sleeping with. You know from the trailers that, of course, there is more than meets the eye than just an adultery scandal. When the eventual rock is unturned, I was unimpressed that this controversy would bring people to murder, and, worse, the journey to get there is such a convoluted mess.
Along the way, Hughes, who’s unsuccessfully working for the first time without his brother Albert, wants us to see the underbelly of New York’s broken city through thin metaphors. Daggert’s strained relationship with his young indie actress girlfriend (Natalie Martinez) is supposed to hit us with moral compromise. All it does is create unintentional laughter as the relationship bizarrely ends, abruptly, after he views her film: what I believe Hughes believes a small indie film looks like, bad credits fonts and all, that contains a sexually explicit scene. This scene gets our imperfect hero to get off the wagon, putting Daggert on a huge bender, only to end up instantly sober when he gets called to a very crucial crime scene.
This is a film that wants you guessing from moment one, but is so predictable that you have it figured out by moment two. By the end, we don’t know which way is up or down. Broken City gets us nowhere near being wowed by its supposed surprise ending and has us leaving our seats trying to put back together this broken film.
Take a Drink: every time something derogatory is said against a race, religion, or sexual preference.
Take a Drink: whenever something obviously noir is going down.
Do a Shot: when Wahlberg’s Daggert starts drinking.