On the surface, Broken City sounds like a big end-of-year prestige movie: It has an impressive, frequently award-nominated cast (Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright); it’s directed by a filmmaker who has experience with both gritty indie dramas and big-budget blockbusters (Allen Hughes, who, with his brother Albert, directed Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, From Hell and The Book of Eli); its script was picked for Hollywood’s prestigious Black List; and it’s all about institutional corruption, the abuse of power and shady cover-ups.
But instead Broken City is one of those movies that studios indifferently toss into theaters during the January lull, with its pedigreed actors coasting through one-dimensional parts, and a convoluted script that gets less interesting as it goes along. Wahlberg plays former NYPD detective Billy Taggart, who was forced to resign following a questionable shooting and has since been working as a private investigator. When the charismatic mayor of New York City (Crowe), who pushed Billy off the force in the first place, hires Billy to tail his potentially adulterous wife (Zeta-Jones), it’s only a matter of time before the detective stumbles into a grand conspiracy, ends up in over his head, has to stand up and do the right thing, etc.
The script by Brian Tucker is a paint-by-numbers combination of elements from a dozen better crime movies, and the plot twists are consistently anticlimactic and/or nonsensical. There are supporting characters and subplots that just drift off into nothingness (Billy’s girlfriend has an apparently essential connection to his back story, and then completely disappears a half-hour before the movie ends), and Billy himself is such a blank slate that it’s hard to tell whether we’re supposed to care about him or not. The dynamic between Wahlberg and Crowe should be tense and electric, but their scenes together have all the excitement of a board meeting.
There’s nothing actively offensive about Broken City, but there’s nothing memorable or interesting about it, either. It’s the kind of movie you’d watch for 10 minutes on TV and then turn off at the commercial break without even bothering to check the title, because it made no impression whatsoever.