Broken City is a broken movie, top class actors like Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg struggling to make anything of its implausible plot and ludicrous characters. A crime thriller with a dash of politics, it’s wall-to-wall cliché, incomplete subplots, and incoherent motivations, a disappointing tale of Town Hall corruption posing as gritty noir.
Crowe, who’s been lying low for a couple of years, plays Mayor Hostetler, a politician with a fake tan on his face and a difficult election on his mind. He enlists private detective Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) to spy on his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), as he thinks she’s spending too much time with someone else. But Taggert, dismissed from the police force seven years earlier by Hostetler, starts to uncover some dirty secrets involving the Mayor’s rival Jack Valiant (Barry Pepper), redevelopment applications, and the city’s Police Commissioner (Jeffrey Wright). Taggert also has to work out what’s going on with his relationship with girlfriend Natalie (Natalie Martinez), and try and stay off the booze. It’s a stuttering mix of stories, with Taggert a perplexed private eye in a world with little meaning.
With a confused and derivative script from first time writer Brian Tucker, director Allen Hughes – who usually works with his twin brother Albert – manages to create a moody atmosphere, the darkened cityscapes and stylish flashbacks a highlight in a film otherwise devoid of life. Noted for independent crime films like From Hell and The Book of Eli, the Hughes Brothers have established a strong reputation in the genre, but Allen works alone here and seems to be missing his brother, who typically focuses on the actors when they work as directing duo. Crowe makes a decent smarmy power-player, sporting a bad haircut and a fake smile, and Wahlberg does what he can with his role, but his powerless central character really has nowhere to go. Zeta-Jones and the rest of the cast are little more than cardboard cut-out characters, although Israeli actress Alona Tal stands out as Taggert’s long-suffering and feisty assistant Katy. Overall, it’s in urgent need of repair.