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The city’s in great shape; it’s the screenplay that’s broken.

From Bedford Stuyvesant

Russell Crowe is the Mayor of New York City
Russell Crowe is the Mayor of New York City

Broken City is one of those political / real estate / backstabbing affair / girlfriend-stars-in-an-art-house-skin-flick thrillers. Yeah. There aren’t too many of those. It’s a phenomenally disjointed mess of a movie that never lives up to Atticus Rose’s moody, dramatic score.

Considering this is from director Allen Hughes, perhaps he’s rudderless working without his brother or perhaps he’s simply lost his mojo; The Hughes Brothers co-directed From Hell in 2001 and The Book of Eli in 2010. But the movie has plenty of Hughes’ flair; the problem is the absolutely daft screenplay by freshman scribe Brian Tucker.

There’s a scene early on when New York City’s Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe, Les Miserables) sends private eye Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg, The Italian Job) off on a mission to find out who’s having an affair with his wife. There’s a lot of fancy camera work as the camera swirls around the mayor’s luxurious digs. Atticus Rose’s atmospheric and moody score kicks in. Crowe and Wahlberg are doing their best with the material. But there’s also a nagging, pervasive sensation that the material isn’t worth all the cinematics.

Dead Campaign Managers

Unfortunately, that nagging feeling of sub-par material bears out to be true. The story here isn’t worthy of the cast. Crowe in particular is super as the dirty mayor and Catherine Zeta-Jones (Chicago), looking as ravishing as ever, is equally excellent as his defiant wife. Wahlberg is also good as Billy, but he’s also a big part of the problem, or at least his character is problematic. Billy is completely, absolutely, utterly one dimensional. But Wahlberg’s great at the one-dimensional, go see Ted for more of that.

So, yeah, Billy’s girlfriend (who’s the sister of a girl raped and murdered 7 years ago – and whose killer Billy rubbed out in, allegedly, self-defense while working as a police officer) is an actress and she’s all giddy about the big premiere of her first movie. It’s astonishing to watch this movie-within-a-movie turn from ponderous romantic drama to pure skin flick. It’s absurd, preposterous, ludicrous… Hmmm… It’s… stupid.

But what’s really ludicrous (and all those other adjectives) is what happens at the after-party. Billy gets a little jealous of his girlfriend’s flirtations with her co-star and on-screen sex partner. After riding the wagon for 7 years, he falls off and lands hard. He guzzles down hard alcohol glass after glass and, not surprisingly, becomes a smidge belligerent. Consider his relationship doomed.

The next scene shows Billy walking down the streets of New York City in combat mode, picking fights but hardly displaying the signs of a man who hasn’t touched alcohol for 7 years then goes on an impromptu bender. He should be driving the porcelain bus. But no. Not here. This one-dimensional wing nut goes from boozing to brawling to – incredulously – finding himself roped in by the police commissioner (Jeffrey Wright, Quantum of Solace) and taken to a murder scene where the commissioner has Billy rough up Mayor Hostetler’s opponent, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper, Saving Private Ryan). It’s Jack’s campaign manager who’s been shot in the head.

Wow. What a night.

What phenomenally crappy storytelling. Do you really physically assault a state senator and dunk his head in a tub of water moments after his campaign manager’s found dead? Seriously? Without any repercussions? In 2012?

Menace II Sensibility

That is Broken City’s bull shit zenith. After that, it’s really hard to care what happens next, although there is a pervasive hope against hope there’ll be a last-minute plot twist to slam all the nonsense upside down and make for a humdinger of a finale.

Alas, that’s not to be.

Broken City’s a runaway train hell-bent on reaching its inevitable, predictable conclusion. The shame of it is it tries to offer up a smorgasbord of topical current events. Police shootings, gun control,  political corruption, alcoholism, land grabs – they all play into the storyline, but somehow it all still manages to add up to a bunch of nothing.

The Book of Eli was released in January 2010 and it offered a decent post-apocalyptic adventure with a good twist at the end. Hopes of The Hughes Brothers “owning” January - either collectively or singularly - have been dashed with Broken City. It has earned the distinction of being 2013’s first big disappointment.