Wednesday, January 23, 2013

In Theaters: BROKEN CITY (2013)

(US - 2013)

Directed by Allen Hughes.  Written by Brian Tucker.  Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Kyle Chandler, Natalie Martinez, Alona Tal, Griffin Dunne, Michael Beach, James Ransone, Justin Chambers, Chance Kelly, William Ragsdale. (R, 109 mins)

BROKEN CITY is the kind of big-city corruption drama that a guy like the late, great Sidney Lumet could make in his sleep.  Unfortunately, it can't even muster the energy to be anywhere near as compelling as Lumet at his least-inspired.  A plodding solo effort by Allen Hughes, one half of the twin Hughes Brothers, who made their mark 20 years ago with MENACE II SOCIETY, BROKEN CITY boasts a fine cast that just seems to be sleepwalking through a really tired script by debuting screenwriter Brian Tucker.  Everything is calculated well in advance, nothing is what it seems, and everyone has a secret.  With some oomph and enthusiasm, even something this played-out can at least be entertaining.  BROKEN CITY is just OK, nothing more.  It's formulaic, by-the-numbers storytelling that's about on the level of a lesser LAW & ORDER episode.  Despite the A-list headliners, almost everything about this, from the Emmett/Furla Films logo in the beginning to most of the NYC-set film being shot in Louisiana, feels straight-to-DVD.

NYC private eye Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is an ex-cop forced out in disgrace seven years earlier after killing an acquitted rapist who got off on a technicality.  He's hired by Mayor Nick Hostetler (Russell Crowe) to shadow his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and get evidence of an adulterous affair before the election in eight days.  Taggart discovers that Cathleen's lover is Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), the campaign manager of Hostetler's liberal opponent Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper).  Taggart turns the evidence over to Hostetler and later that night, Andrews is found dead with a bullet to the head.  But was Andrews really having an affair with the mayor's wife?  And does his murder have something to do with a $4 billion deal to buy out a bunch of apartment buildings in the projects that's become a major campaign issue?

BROKEN CITY is better in the early going but once it settles in, it just gets blander and sillier and the plot holes and inconsistencies start piling up.  Tucker's script stops making much sense around the time it's revealed (SPOILER) that Taggart's been duped by Hostetler and that the mayor's wife really isn't having an affair but was working with Andrews to dig up dirt on the mayor involving his secret co-ownership in the $4 billion projects deal.  OK, fine.  But Taggart tailed Andrews from NYC to his vacation home on Montauk where he arranged a rendezvous with the mayor's wife, during which they hug, kiss, and pop open some champagne before pulling the curtains closed while Taggart is on the beach snapping photos. If they aren't having an affair and they don't yet have the proof of the mayor's involvement, then what the hell are they toasting, why are they cuddly, and why are they meeting so clandestinely?  Because the script needs them to.  And it's not like the mayor's involvement should be hard to prove and his ownership isn't a matter of public record.  He passionately defends the purchase of the projects by an organization that happens to be run by his close buddy (Griffin Dunne), and not one NYC journalist (or, for that matter, concerned Valliant-supporting citizen) thinks to check whose name is all over the legal documents signed 30 years earlier when the mayor was just a young businessman?  Does the internet not exist in BROKEN CITY's version of NYC?

Wahlberg's bored performance seems to indicate that he realizes this is a bit of a dud.  He gets to go on some nonsensical detour when his character falls off the wagon after attending a premiere of his girlfriend's (Natalie Martinez) acting debut in a pretentious indie film.  He starts downing shots after seeing her in an explicit sex scene with the film's star (Justin Chambers).  None of this advances the plot in any way though it does provide one of the film's highlights when Wahlberg decks the porkpie-hat-wearing Chambers.  Crowe uses a broad Noo Yawk accent, keeping things generally restrained but it's obvious from the start that he's up to something even before he threateningly caresses/borderline chokes Zeta-Jones, who has very little to do in a role that amounts to a slightly extended cameo.

The best thing about BROKEN CITY is easily the spirited performance of Israeli actress Alona Tal as Katy, Taggart's feisty, take-no-shit receptionist-turned-P.I.-partner.  Tal, best known for recurring roles on VERONICA MARS and SUPERNATURAL and the co-star of the upcoming CW series CULT, nails the "girl Friday" aspect of her character and lights up the screen whenever she appears.  Even Wahlberg arises from his slumber to step it up a little when he's bantering with her.  Whether Katy is profanely tearing into clients who haven't paid up, busting Taggart's chops, or having a mild anxiety attack about finally working alongside her boss on a job, Tal is bright, funny, and thoroughly charming, stealing the movie from her more experienced, much higher-paid co-stars who have been in the game long enough to cynically realize that they just need to show up and punch in for this one.  This young woman is going to be a star.  She's just about the only memorable thing in the otherwise lackluster and generic BROKEN CITY.

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