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BROKEN CITY – The Review

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Brokencity

In the world of baseball Reggie Jackson is known as “Mr. October” since he was usually a part of the big Fall event: the World Series. Perhaps Mark Wahlberg could earn the nickname of “Mr. January”. A year ago this month he starred in the “B-movie” action/thriller CONTRABAND (he had a Summer flick coming up, TED, which proved to be quite the blockbuster). The modest CONTRABAND had a better chance at the box office early in the year before the Summer onslaught of blockbusters. This ear Mr. W has a few higher profile flicks starting with PAIN AND GAIN in a few months. But lete’s talk about the current movie, BROKEN CITY. It too is an action/thriller with a healthy dose of political intruige tossed in. Oh, and there’s a couple Oscar winning actors sharing the screen with “Mr. January”. In the world of baseball Reggie Jackson is known as “Mr. October” since he was usually a part of the big Fall event: the World Series. Perhaps Mark Wahlberg could earn the nickname of “Mr. January”. A year ago this month he starred in the “B-movie” action/thriller CONTRABAND (he had a Summer flick coming up, TED, which proved to be quite the blockbuster). The modest CONTRABAND had a better chance at the box office early in the year before the Summer onslaught of blockbusters. This ear Mr. W has a few higher profile flicks starting with PAIN AND GAIN in a few months. But lete’s talk about the current movie, BROKEN CITY. It too is an action/thriller with a healthy dose of political intruige tossed in. Oh, and there’s a couple Oscar winning actors sharing the screen with “Mr. January”. So can this flick make you forget the Winter chill?

Wahlberg fills the screen as the first image of this film. His New York beat cop Billy Taggart stands over the bullet-ridden corpse of a Latino teen. The shooting inquiry prompts many citizens groups to picket outside the courthouse. The city’s divided and Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) is watching very closely. Police Chief Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) informs him of some new damaging evidence. But the Mayor thinks Billy’s a good cop and the perp’s a vicious rapist/killer that seems to have been sprung on a technicality. Still, after Billy’s cleared he must give up his badge. The Mayor shakes his hand and reminds him to keep in touch. Seven years later Billy’s a private investigator that spends his nights taking pics of cheating spouses and his days calling up slow-paying clients. Then out of the blue Mr. Mayor calls and sets up a meeting at City Hall. He’s in a hotly contested election running againt reformer councilman Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper) and concerned that his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair. Billy’s paid handsomely to find out the identity of the other man (this could damage the campaign). But this turns out to be more than just adultery and soon Billy and his loved ones are targeted by forces that want ot keep him quiet, permanently.So can this flick make you forget the Winter chill?

Wahlberg reprises his good-natured street kid grown up as Taggart for the most part. He’s quick with his fists, but a tad slow in making the connections. It’s not til the film’s mid-point that we see some of his dark side. Crowe’s Mayor is pretty much all dark side. He’s a parody of the glad-handing, back-slapping politico topped off with a cheezy used-car salesman hairstyle. Billy should’ve known that something was up after his male/female dogs riff in his office (with his busty personal aide right outside). His main concern is not whether voters think he’s a cuckhold. Zeta-Jones as Mrs. Mayor is either flashing her perfect “Jackie-O” smile for the camera or casting daggar stares at her hubby (when she’s not tossing cryptic warnings at Billy). Still this is a step up from her recent film roles as the wild-eyed harpy in ROCK OF AGES and the man-eater in PLAYING FOR KEEPS. Wright is a tough top cop, but his alliegences are never fully clear. Pepper’s too shrill and strident to be believable as a fearsome candidate. Tyler Chandler shows up as his campaign manger who has little do besides putting the plot in motion, despite an interesting scene on a commuter train with Wahlberg (kind of a letdown after great work in ARGO and ZERO DARK THIRTY. The most pleasant surprise in the film is screen newcomer Alona Tal as Billy’s tough talking “girl Friday” Katy. Their scenes together really crackle thanks to her energy and ease with dialogue. Somebody give her the lead in a movie comedy stat!

This is the first solo directing effort from Allen Hughes after sharing the reins with his brother Albert on several films including DEAD PRESIDENTS and FROM HELL. It’s a shame he’s stuck with such a lackluster script. The big political mystery is fairly simple and many characters behave illogically. Tommy’s girlfriend imvites him to the premiere of her indie flick and doesn’t forewarn him about her graphic sex scene? Who would do that? Minutes after growling at each other at a crime scene Haggart and the chief work together to get info from a witness? Really? Tommy finds incrimating files and maps in a trahbag placed on top of a dumpster? The bad guys wouldn’t shred or burn it first? This leads to a rather dull, confusing car chase on the always wet streets. The film’s pace sags in the middle and never recovers. Scenes that go nowhere (like a strained visit to Billy’s old haunts) don’t help tighten the tension. There’s some nice use of New York (and I believe New orleans) locations, but, aside from the star power, BROKEN CITY could’ve easily been a premieum or basic cable TV flick. If Mr. Wahlberg and company can’t come up with a more engrossing flick next January, then maybe they should just take an extended New Year’s holiday.

2 Out of 5 Stars

broken-city poster

Jim Batts was a contestant on the movie edition of TV's "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" in 2009 and has been a member of the St. Louis Film Critics organization since 2013.

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