There are a million stories in the broken city. Sadly director Allen Hughes has decided to tell this one - a botched attempt at City Hall corruption and crime noir with a seriously mangled plot and laugh-out-loud dialogue.
Maybe it’s a rite of passage in Hollywood and every screenwriter has to have a go at emulating Chinatown and LA Confidential but first-time script writer Brian Tucker most likely has a well-thumbed stack of Jeffrey Archer and Dan Brown paperbacks by his bedside. In Broken City, tumblers of scotch are thrown back in wood-panelled offices and people bark out lines like, “Sing Sing ain’t no place for guys with good hearts” and “The only way he’s gonna see this election is from behind bars like a monkey in a cage.”
I kept expecting a colourised George Raft to appear left of screen flicking a dime and sneering, "Ya dopes, this is how you do it!" In fact, for the first forty minutes of Broken City I was transfixed, convinced that I was watching a piece of high-concept satire and that abruptly the movie would shift gear and morph into a steely and clever thriller.
But no, the clichés swirled and the plywood characters threatened to fall over if they stood too close to a subway vent. Anyway, here's the lowdown - the usually reliable Mark Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, a disgraced NYPD-er who's traded in his badge to become a private dick with money problems. Times are tough and making the rent is tougher so when Mayor Nicholas Hostetler, played with what is meant to be mix of charisma and nastiness by Russell Crowe, offers our worn-down gumshoe a chance to make quick money, Taggart jumps quicker than a white boy in Harlem. Damn, it's contagious.
Turns out, that the good Mayor, who’s re-running for office, has a got a problem, see – he suspects his wife is cheating on him and whereas hard-boiled New Yorkers will take all manner of naughtiness in high office, they will not vote for a cuckold. So Taggart starts getting snap happy with his Olympus over Mrs Mayor and her lover boy but, listen up, things ain’t what they seem.
Throw in an extraordinarily useless romantic subplot involving Taggart’s wannabe actress girlfriend and some tokenism about his drink problem, and you can almost picture the script screwing itself up into a ball and arcing to the nearest waste paper basket. Hughes, who directed the great Menace to Society with his brother Albert, has gone solo here but he never gets to grips with the mess of daft plot twists. Crowe and Wahlberg look faintly embarrassed with their decision to take part, a shame because old Russ was outstanding in LA Confidential and Marky was equally outstanding in The Departed, both movies with brilliantly labyrinthine plots and memorable characters.
As the Mayor’s beautiful and intelligent wife, Catherine Zeta Jones is utterly underused but Barry Pepper does redeem matters somewhat as Hoelteller’s rival for high office, Valiant a rich Connecticut carpetbagger who’s also a bit of class warrior. But even his good work is undone when, in a scene that had me LOL-ing like a duck, he actually crushes a whiskey tumbler in his clenched fist.
Like that tumbler, Broken City is beyond repair.