‘Broken City’ Review
There are 8.2 million people living in New York City. Combine the population of Slovenia, Macedonia, Lithuania and you still aren't anywhere near what we've got. More importantly, why would you do that? New York is the capital of the world for at least a few more decades before China takes over. As such, those of us who live here can be excused for thinking that the power machinations in our city take on all the gravitas of Shakespeare or, as Chance Kelly (one of cinema's up and coming "that guy"s) in 'Broken City' calls it, an Italian opera.
'Broken City' begins seven years ago. Mark Wahlberg is a cop on trial for gunning down a thug in the projects. Activists in the street call it murder, he calls it self-defense. The mayor (Russell Crowe) is ready to call the man a hero, mostly to ensure great poll numbers in conservative Staten Island (so he won't have to actually visit there). There's a problem, though. A rising police chief (Jeffrey Wright) knows what actually went down, so they all cut a backroom deal. Wahlberg goes free, but he has to disappear.
That backroom is the thumping heart of 'Broken City' and the thing makes it an irresistible fantasy. After 12 years of mature, responsible Michael Bloomberg, it's refreshing to see a power-mad, hard-drinking alpha male mayor again. Of course anyone with half a brain knows that when he pulls Wahlberg back from obscurity with a sweet job it is a set-up, but the long twisting road to that revelation is, by and large, entertaining.
Wahlberg is bustin' his hump as a cheap private dick underneath the Manhattan Bridge. (Never mind that that neighborhood is now vegan restaurants and art performance spaces, this is clearly a make believe New York.) He's got a wisecracking blonde assistant and his name painted on the frosted glass door. It may as well be one of Captain Picard's Dixon Hill holonovels.
The mayor, just a week away from an election opposite Barry Pepper doing his best Chris Sarandon impression, is convinced his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is sleeping around. He wants proof. Why now? Because New Yorkers have voted in blacks, gays, Jews and Italians, but never a man whose wife is getting boned by another man. (Yeah, Russell Crowe is having a blast delivering some of these speeches.)
Wahlberg heads out to society functions and takes the LIRR to Montauk but then, wouldn't you know it, somebody ends up dead, real estate deals show hidden contracts and the entire third act is a battery of twists and reversals. Also: Griffin Dunne playing racquetball.
Unfortunately, the second half of the movie gets too complex for its own good. I was having fun watching Wahlberg, Crowe and Zeta-Jones strut around in their tuxes and evening dresses. Straining to piece together the ridiculous bread crumbs of clues, however, is, quite frankly, more effort than this diversionary yarn really deserves.
There's also a love interest, Natalie Martinez as the independent film actress (huge goal posts for some good jokes that don't materialize), but this is such an afterthought that I'm convinced a scene of relationship closure must exist somewhere on the cutting room floor.
I can't stress enough the difference in quality between the first and second half of this film. By the time justice got served, I was relentlessly checking my watch, but earlier I was digging this "poor man's 'Bonfire of the Vanities'" or "'Chinatown' meets 'The Taking of the Pehlam One Two Three.'" Catherine Zeta-Jones (on a bit of a roll right now between this and the terrific forthcoming 'Side Effects') kills it in a black, sequined dress on a near-Nick and Nora Charles balcony asking Wahlberg, "What are you, stupid or Catholic?"
If I lived elsewhere, maybe I'd be more harsh, but as a New Yorker I feel the need to give "Broken City" a light recommendation.
'Broken City' premieres in theaters Friday, January 18.
Jordan Hoffman is a writer, critic and lapsed filmmaker living in New York City. His work can also be seen on Film.com, Badass Digest and StarTrek.com.