“Broken City” squanders a way-too-good cast in a meandering, not very compelling cop-and-political corruption story that plays like a half-hearted homage to Sidney Lumet’s ’70s crime thrillers like “Serpico,” “Dog Day Afternoon” and “Prince of the City.” Its other clear inspiration is The Wire, although it more resembles a significantly shallower, less sophisticated version of that show.
Directed by Allen Hughes, one-half of the Hughes Brothers team that gave us “Menace II Society” and other, less highly regarded subsequent films, the film stars Mark Wahlberg as a New York City cop, who was cleared of his role in an Amadou Diallo-like shooting with some sort of help from the mayor (Russell Crowe) and the police commissioner (Jeffrey Wright.)
Seven years later, Crowe is up for re-election- against liberal reformer Barry Pepper- and needs another favor from Wahlberg, now a private eye, which involves trailing the mayor’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and Pepper’s campaign manager (Kyle Chandler.) Also on-hand are Griffin Dunne as a sketchy developer, Wire alum James Ransone (Ziggy Sobotka!) as his son, and Natalie Martinez as Wahlberg’s unbelievably sexy actress girlfriend.
That’s a pretty damn strong top-to-bottom cast, with multiple Oscar winners and a bunch of actors who have been in a whole lot of good movies. “Broken City,” though, wastes just about everyone, giving them paper-thin characters and moving them through a plot that’s equal parts silly and inconsequential.
There are various plot points- Wahlberg’s jealousy over his girlfriend’s co-star, his alcoholism, a surprise affair- that are raised and then quickly abandoned. The crime plot builds to a revelation that’s neither shocking nor all that interesting. The entire plot centers on a shady land deal that gave me flashbacks to Whitewater- remember Whitewater, and how no one understood or ultimately cared about it? And why would a New York mayoral election hinge entirely on the sale of a housing project in Brooklyn?
Indeed, the movie has just about nothing to say about the nature of political corruption, nor does it have anything in common with real life, unless Mayor Bloomberg has a sideline in murder-for-hire that I don’t know about.
Wahlberg gives his standard tough-guy performance; there are certain movies, like “The Fighter,” when he turns it up, but not this time. He’s also playing a “Brooklyn native” who retains his heavy Boston accent- and why does no one ever recognize the cop who was the shooter in a pretty high-profile case? Crowe is impressive too- and it’s nice to see him, you know, not singing- but no one else turns in work that’s particularly memorable in any way.
The look of the film isn’t bad, but once again, it’s almost entirely stolen from Lumet.
They’re never particularly big hits, but for some reason, we still get movies like this all the time- these “gritty,” New York-set cop films that practically scream “Lumet ripoff,” always with generic titles like “Pride and Glory,” “The Yards” and now “Broken City.”
Broken City” isn’t terrible, but it’s no “Serpico” either.