If Mark Wahlberg's film career goes south in the next few years, he could have a future starring in a television crime drama.
At times "Broken City" feels like the pilot for a '70s-era detective show. Wahlberg's Billy Taggart is a private eye who is an ex-cop with a shadowy, alcohol-filled past. He's got a loyal gal Friday in his office as he struggles to collect from his deadbeat clients. And he has a complicated personal life. All he needs is a cockatoo and some colorful informants.
Instead, he finds himself embroiled in political and sexual intrigue a week before the New York City mayoral election. Seven years after Taggart was forced to resign from the police force for killing a rape/murder suspect who escaped conviction on a technicality (even though a judge ruled that Taggart's shooting was in self-defense), Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) asks him to tail his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who he is convinced is having an affair. The mayor is in a tight re-election battle, and he's worried that a leak about an affair will hurt his campaign.
However, when the man in the pictures with the mayor's wife turns up dead, Taggart starts to question whether the mayor was using him for other purposes.
"Broken City" is one of those movies where everyone is corrupt and everyone has ulterior motives. It's not particularly good or plausible, but it's never less than entertaining, mainly because of how well Wahlberg settles into the role.
Crowe's Noo Yawk accent is all over the map, but he makes for a good Machiavellian political villain. He's at his most intimidating as he questions his wife one morning with his hand strategically placed alongside her neck. She and the audience are just waiting for him to start squeezing.
WHAT: "Broken City"
STARS: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Alona Tal, Natalie Martinez and Kyle Chandler.
STORYLINE: An ex-cop is hired by the mayor of New York City to investigate his wife's adulterous behavior just days before voters decide whether he'll be re-elected.
DIRECTOR: Allen Hughes
RATING: R for violence, some sexual content and pervasive language.
Jeffrey Wright keeps his motives inscrutable as the police commissioner who alternates between being and ally and a foe of Hostetler, and Alona Tal takes what could have been a throwaway role as Taggart's receptionist Katy and makes her one of the film's most entertaining characters.
Allen Hughes, directing his first theatrical release without his brother Albert, maneuvers through the twists in Brian Tucker's screenplay with ease, but the movie seems filled with missed opportunities. There's a revelation about how Taggart ended up with his actress girlfriend Natalie (Natalie Martinez) that opens up some intriguing possibilities, but it's almost immediately dropped.
And the business deals and the secrets around some of the maneuvering in the script would seem to be information that would be a matter of public record and nearly impossible to suppress in a city with as much media as New York.
But those nagging questions crop up after walking out of the theater. Until then, the mix of cop drama and sleazy political intrigue makes for a fun diversion.