Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Broken City

Of all the movies I've ever seen, "Broken City" is one of them. There's just nothing distinctive or memorable about this chop-shop amalgam of stock characters, overdetermined plot points, and empty political rhetoric - which is disappointing, given the solid cast.

Mark Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart (an homage to Judge Reinhold's and John Ashton's characters in "Beverly Hills Cop"?), a disgraced New York (!) police detective turned private dick who spends most of his time engaged in wiseass banter with his assistant/collections agent. Russell Crowe - still in villain mode - plays the vaguely Republican mayor, Nick Hostetler, who faces a re-election challenge from vaguely Democratic councilman Jack Valliant (subtle), played by Barry Pepper from Kevin Spacey's awful "Casino Jack." Hostetler, having quietly helped Taggart beat a murder rap in an excessive-force case seven years ago, hires him to follow and photograph his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who he believes is two-timing him - perhaps with Valliant's idealistic campaign manager (Kyle Chandler, a ringer for a younger Crowe). Seemingly working for - and against - everyone is the ubiquitous police commissioner, Carl Fairbanks, a role to which even Jeffrey Wright cannot bring any meaningful menace.

If it sounds like the movie's all plot, you're thinking right. Unfortunately, the filmmakers abort whatever thrills this mediocre material might have birthed by having the actors explain everything that's happened - and about to happen - in recitations of clunky exposition. The dialogue screams of script - no human being talks the way these characters do - and one extended debate between Hostetler and Valliant is so poorly written and staged it makes Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain look like Lincoln and Douglas.

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