Hacked out by one of the twin Hughes brothers who directed the Jack the Ripper potboiler From Hell, Allen Hughes’s Broken City is another feverish, thickly plotted, overwritten and ultimately preposterous tale of sordid New York political corruption in which nothing much rings true. Manhattan is played by New Orleans, for starters. The crooked mayor is played by the mumbling Russell Crowe, a combination crime lord and urban hatchetman who runs every vice in town, owns City Hall and bribes everyone onto his personal payroll, from Harlem landlords to the NYPD, yet speaks in such a whisper that his voice is drowned out by the ice melting in a highball glass. What were they thinking?
Under the circumstances, Mark Wahlberg soars as Billy Taggart, a cop who is framed by the mayor for the fatal shooting of a teenage punk and drummed off the force. Seven years later, the incumbent mayor, still mumbling and in the middle of a controversial election, offers Billy, now working as a private eye, $50,000 to track down, photograph and reveal the identity of a man he suspects of sleeping with his luscious wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) before it gets into The New York Post. Billy quickly sniffs out her lover as Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), who happens to be the campaign manager for the mayor’s rival—a rich, liberal and inexplicably honest city councilman absurdly named Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper). His goal is to clean up the city, but before Billy can collect his fee and join the good guys to get even with the mayor who betrayed him, Andrews is brutally murdered and Billy is up to his preppy haircut in intrigues that lead all the way to the police commissioner (Jeffrey Wright). On the wagon for seven years, Billy then sees his Latino actress girlfriend in a hot sex scene in her first film and orders a double whiskey. But this is just the beginning of a series of subplots with more holes than a Brooklyn street after a January snowstorm. Now in revenge mode, it’s up to the private dick to set things straight, smashing up the city traffic in the process.
Broken City paints a grim picture of New York as a lawless chunk of decaying real estate, where the mayor offers everyone at City Hall a cocktail during working hours and cops think nothing of knocking back a few on duty. There’s also a labyrinthine plot about a multibillion-dollar deal to sell public housing to criminal stock market financiers that is never convincingly explained, but the biggest mystery—why the mayor chose Billy to do his dirty work—is not solved until the very end. Meanwhile, the somersaulting screenplay by Brian Tucker has an odd way of stretching out the definition of film noir—with plot interruptions about double-crosses, extortions and assorted larcenies too complex to keep up with, and too many tertiary characters who only fog up the lens. The bombastic action sequences on dark New York streets, the good-looking clothes and the jarring music are of the present, but everything seems to be taking place in some long-ago era from the Police Gazette. Mark Wahlberg even shaves. Ultimately, everyone in the movie is wasted, including Catherine Zeta-Jones, who provides great eye candy but has nothing important to say or do. Most of the roles are so ambiguous you end up scratching your head in the final reel, and some of the loose ends are so irrelevant they seem to have ended up on the cutting-room floor. With Russell Crowe, it really helps if you can read lips.
Running Time 109 minutes
Written by Brian Tucker
Directed by Allen Hughes
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones