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Broken City Review: Not Bad for a Bad Movie

By Dustin Rowles | Film | January 18, 2013 |

By Dustin Rowles | Film | January 18, 2013 |

I like Mark Wahlberg as an actor, and I’ll tell you why: He knows what he does well, and he doesn’t stray from it. If the screenplay calls for a blue collar cop, thief, or working man from Philly, Boston, or New York, he’ll take it. Doesn’t matter what kind of movie it is: Sports movie (Invincible), B-movie (Contraband, Four Brothers, Shooter), comedy (The Other Guys, Ted) or prestige film (The Departed, The Fighter). He doesn’t put on airs. He’s not particular. If a role is written for a guy like Mark Wahlberg, he’ll take it, no questions asked.

Conversations with his agent probably go like this:

Agent: I got a part I think you might like. It’s about an blue collar, East Coast …

Wahlberg: I’ll take it.

Agent: Don’t you want to hear the rest? You want to know who is directing?

Wahlberg: Nope. No, wait. Is the chick in it hot?

Agent: Yes.

Wahlberg: Sign me up.

That brings us to Broken City, which fits solidly into the B-movie category, although it boasts an A-list cast (or at least, formerly A-list) in Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta Jones. Wahlberg plays Billy, a Brooklyn cop who loses his job after he shoots a thug who gets off on a technicality for raping and murding a neighborhood woman. Billy also ends up in a romantic relationship with the dead girl’s sister, who ends up becoming an actress in a particularly superfluous subplot. Although Billy loses his job, he doesn’t go to prison for murder because the mayor (Russell Crowe) buries a piece of evidence that would put him away.

Cut to seven years later. Billy is working as a private detective, and the mayor calls him in to track down the man who is sleeping with his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Billy takes some pictures, the man (Kyle Chandler, in another one of these faceless bureaucrat roles Chandler keeps landing in feature films) ends up dead, and it turns out there’s a lot more to the story than adultery. There’s an impending mayoral election, a land deal, a loveless marriage, and a gay relationship, and the mayor is still holding that piece of incriminating evidence over Billy’s head. Basically, the movie is just as the trailer suggests.

Broken City, directed by Allen Hughes (making his feature directorial debut without his brother), turns a fairly by-the-numbers thriller into a B-movie that’s generic but modestly entertaining. It’s essentially a solid episode of a Dick Wolf procedural made with a bigger budget and recognizable faces. It’s not based on a book, but if it was, it’d be something you bought at an airport, finished before the flight, and bought again at the airport a year later because you forgot you’d already read it. Wahlberg plays Wahlberg, Crowe chews a little scenery, Catherine Zeta-Jones gets a paycheck for looking good in a gown, and nobody’s worse for wear. I wouldn’t recommend Broken City over, say, a good movie, but as bad movies go, this one is top notch.