This wannabe political thriller falls far short of its mark as it unravels the dense web of criminal conspiracies enveloping longtime incumbent New York City Mayor Nicholas Hosteler (Russell Crowe), who is vying for re-election with a younger, richer city councilman, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper).
After he was forced to take a fall seven years ago for gunning down an exonerated rapist/gang member, allegedly in self-defense, former NYPD detective Billy Taggert (Mark Wahlberg) opened his own private investigation agency in Brooklyn. Working with an office assistant, Katy Bradshaw (Alona Tal), he’s often strapped for money. That’s why he accepts with alacrity a $50,000 cash offer from Mayor Hosteler to spy on the his classy wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whom the blustering Mayor suspects of adultery.
The plot thickens when Billy concludes that Cathleen is involved with Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), campaign manager for Hosteler’s opponent Jack Valliant. But this case turns out to be far more convoluted since there’s a clandestine subplot revolving around a multibillion-dollar deal to level Bolton Village, a public housing project – and Billy is being used as a pawn. Adding to the complications are Police Commissioner Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) and Taggert’s aspiring-actress girl-friend, Natalie Barrow (Natalie Martinez), who just happens to be the older sister of the rape victim whom Billy bumped off and her family, conveniently, lives in the Bolton Village project.
Problem is: instead of characters, these are caricatures. With his wobbly accent, Russell Crowe’s municipal corruption is evident immediately and Mark Wahlberg’s earnestly blue-collar performance never rises above stereotype – nor does Catherine Zeta-Jones’ elegance.
Written by first-time screenwriter Brian Tucker, this is the first feature film that Allen Hughes has directed without his twin brother Albert. Sons of an African-American father and Armenian-American mother, the Hughes Brothers collaborated on “Menace II Society,” “Dead Presidents,” “From Hell,” “American Pimp” and “The Book of Eli.” But Albert has been living in the Czech Republic since 2004.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Broken City” is a feeble 5, a mundane melodrama.