Movie Review: Nothing to Crowe about in 'Broken City'

Bob Tremblay

The dog days of winter are upon us where Hollywood releases the hounds. These are the films the studios consider neither popular enough for blockbuster material in the summer nor good enough for Oscar contention in the fall.

Some of these films are real howlers: so bad you’d rather get a hickey from a pit bull. Others are simply mediocre and quickly forgettable. Frequently, they waste a talented cast. Case in point, "Broken City." You won’t want to poke your eyes out with knitting needles after watching this movie, but when you have a film starring Oscar nominee Mark Wahlberg and Oscar winners Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones, you expect more.

And in "Broken City," you expect more than a standard thriller. And calling it "standard" is being kind. You know a film has issues when you walk out of the theater and start asking yourself questions like, "Why didn’t so-and-so tell so-and-so about that, considering he wanted to bring down so-and-so?" "And what happened to so-and-so? She just disappeared without a trace. It’s almost like she was just a plot device." "And, boy, didn’t you think so-and-so sobered up real fast when he arrived at the crime scene?" "And where did some of those twists come from at the end? They didn’t come out of left field. They came out of someone's …" Sorry, this is a family newspaper.

Perhaps when Brian Tucker, the film’s first-time screenwriter, pens his next script he’ll fill in his plot holes.

Unfortunately, "Broken City" has so many of these gaps of logic that after awhile the film slowly sinks into them.

The movie opens with New York cop Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) standing over the body of a dead man. In the next scene, a crowd outside a courtroom is protesting against Taggart’s alleged police brutality even though the victim is a rapist and a murderer. Oops, make that an exonerated rapist and murderer. Taggart is found not guilty of murder, but at a subsequent meeting with Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Crowe) and Police Chief Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright), Taggart is told of damning evidence against him and he is relieved of his badge. Now, what could that evidence be?

Anyway, flash forward seven years and Billy is now a private detective with an incredibly beautiful and understanding assistant, Katy Bradshaw (Alona Tal). Billy might be a great detective, but he’s not a very good businessman and he’s in debt. So when Hostetler (no relation to former New York Giants quarterback Jeff Hostetler, we assume) offers Billy $50,000 to spy on the mayor’s wife Cathleen (Zeta-Jones) to see if she’s cheating on him, the detective gladly accepts.

Now you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes or even Katie Holmes to know that something isn’t kosher here. Too bad Billy, who seems fairly bright, can’t see that he’s being set up. You may ask yourself why? Well, let’s see, Hostetler is running for reelection in a close race against a councilman, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), who is looking for evidence of corruption against the mayor. Corruption in politics? Say it ain't' so! Do you think something might be amiss with a housing project "renovation"? And who do you think is having an affair with Cathleen? Might it be someone with a political affiliation? I’ll never tell.

Meanwhile, Billy’s relationship with Natalie Barrow (Natalie Martinez), his gorgeous Hispanic girlfriend, is heading down that rocky road. Do you think Billy will get bent out of shape after he sees Natalie making love on the screen?

Billy later visits Natalie’s parents, who apparently never talk to their daughter because they have no idea about her relationship woes.

Director Allen Hughes ("Menace II Society") adds a car chase here and a fight scene there to break up the tedium, but by then urban blight has set into your brain.

Wahlberg has played tough guys with tender hearts before so this role isn’t exactly a stretch. At least here he plays a protagonist who demonstrates a thuggish side. As for Crowe, all that’s missing from his one-note performance is a pitchfork and a side dish of fire and brimstone. You may ask yourself why Cathleen, a rather decent person, married this big city Beelzebub? Strange bedfellows, indeed.

About the film’s only saving grace is the banter between Billy and Katy. Their scenes together actually work, due in no small part to Tal.

"Broken City" thinks that by piling on plots and plot twists that the end result will be intrigue. Instead all we get is a ball of confusion, and that’s what the world is today, hey, hey, in January.

"Broken City" is rated R. Written by Brian Tucker; directed by Allen Hughes. With Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Jeffrey Wright and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

"Broken City" Grade: C