By Roger Moore
It’s a filthy place, this “Broken City.” Even the people called “good guys” have their dark side, their dirty secrets and tragic flaws.
“Broken City” begins with a cop, ably played by Mark Wahlberg, on trial for a shooting that may not be as cut-and-dried as he maintains. The mayor (Russell Crowe) slaps him on the back, and says “I like having my picture taken with heroes.” But he and the police chief (Jeffrey Wright) end Billy Taggart’s career, no matter what the judge says.
Cut to seven years later. Billy’s a private detective — skulking in alleys, photographing cheating spouses. He’s got a hot actress wife (Natalie Martinez), and his work has made him the jealous type. He’s got a lot of bills and a bad temper.
At least he’s on the wagon.
That’s the moment his old pal, the mayor, calls. Find out who’s sleeping with my wife, Hizzonor says. Do it before Election Day, next week. The can-do mayor is in a two-fisted race with a city councilman (Barry Pepper). The last thing he needs is for word to get out that his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is cuckolding him.
But once Billy has done his job and gotten the incriminating photos things turn even dicier. The adulterer turns up dead and Billy wonders if he’s been set up. His life unravels even as he and his perky assistant (Alona Tal) unravel the layers of deceit surrounding this case.
Director Allen Hughes (“The Book of Eli”) hides the secrets well and stages a good fight and chase. But what’s most entertaining about Brian Tucker’s script is the lived-in feel it has. Politicians treat slander with the cavalier disregard of those used to an “any means necessary” style of campaigning. “It won’t stick. But it’ll smudge.”
Wright’s police chief-turned-police commissioner has a simmering resentment that feels righteous, but unsavory. Crowe plays the mayor’s working-class background as a barely hidden resentment, making him menacing even when he’s glad-handing supporters.
But “Broken City” doesn’t have a compelling narrative to pull it along. Wahlberg, playing well within his comfort zone, dials back the fearsome, aiming for funny some of the time. It’s a hallmark of this slightly-better-than-average thriller that it is missing some of the requisite thrills. And that Wahlberg blows his best one-liner.
This mayor is “dangerous,” he’s warned. Naah, Billy flatly replies.“He only knows people that kill people.” Emphasize the “KNOWS” and that line sings.
Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.