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Billy Summers: Wahlberg shines in crime drama, action film 'Broken City'

Jan. 27, 2013 @ 09:30 PM

Allen Hughes, along with his brother Albert, is responsible throughout the last 20 years for some really great action movies ("Menace II Society," "Book of Eli," "From Hell"). Allen takes the helm of "Broken City" alone, and does pretty well with it.

He gives us a crime drama starring Mark Wahlberg ("The Departed," "Max Payne," "Boogie Nights") as former cop, Billy Taggart, a has been who does what all has been movie cops do; he becomes a private investigator.

As the good guy, Wahlberg plays it tough, so tough in fact that he does the Tough Guy thing, by ignoring the beautiful women who are falling all over him.

His live-in girlfriend, Natalie, played by Natalie Martinez ("End of Watch," "Death Race," "Saints & Sinners") is definitely the love of his life, but he shows no intimacy toward her in the movie, simply standing around and flexing his many muscles while smirking at her liberal, thespian pals.

He does no better with Alona Tal ("Veronica Mars," "Supernatural") who, as Katy, plays the traditional gumshoe secretary, doing everything but jumping up on his desk and stripping for him, but to no avail. Billy, the detective, has a little trouble detecting love.

Catherine Zeta-Jones ("Chicago," "Entrapment," "The Legend of Zorro"), captures his attention for a bit as Cathleen Hostetler, the mayor's wife. She gets about as much screen time here as she did in last year's "Playing for Keeps" with Gerard Butler.

Come on, Catherine; let's see you STAR in something! You are an Oscar winner, married to a screen legend, and you can't find a good vehicle to bring to the Silver Screen?

They say power is an aphrodisiac, and that's what Russell Crowe ("A Brilliant Mind," "L.A. Confidential," "Gladiator") has as Mayor Hostetler. He is no longer a buff gladiator, but does look pretty sharp in a tuxedo. He is so smooth in this movie even a blind man could see that he is major league dirty.

He plays a great role, and does better with the sleaze, than Wahlberg does with the retribution. His "stab you in the back" smile would make any used car salesman envious.

Jeffrey Wright ("Casino Royale," "The Manchurian Candidate") gives a nice second-tier performance as the chief of police, although a plot point involving Taggart's past glares out at the audience whenever his character is on scene.

Excellent second-tier actor Barry Pepper ("We Were Soldiers," "61*," "Saving Private Ryan") does the best with what he has, as mayoral opponent Jack Valliant, but his character's lack of story line leaves him looking like a Donald Trump without the silver spoon in his mouth.

"Broken City" would make a great "Law & Order" episode (or, better yet, a two-hour television movie), maybe even a trio of Soprano episodes, but it is not the Film Noir classic that it wants to be.

Thankfully, it dodges the current trend of three-hour epics, and its hour and a half (more or less) running time makes it very bearable. It closes kind of abruptly, however, and the "hero riding off into the sunset" scene left a lot to be desired.

Technically, the filming had a fracture here and there, never really giving you a sense that it was actually New York City (it was filmed, mainly, in New Orleans). The obligatory car chase was one of the worst I've seen lately, and Wahlberg's fight scenes were anticlimactic.

Neither a lover, nor a fighter in this movie, Wahlberg should have down played it like a loser, but he doesn't. He just seems to be a regular guy, doing a job he dislikes, but not really looking for anything better. It's all kind of a downer existence and makes for a boring movie, in spots.

More action, either lovin' or fightin', would have helped, along with better scenery and deeper plot development. The script is average, but the dialogue is very well done, and Wahlberg and Crowe know how to throw out the words.

This was put together like a film student's class assignment. I think the viewer will like it, but won't really go out and rave about it.

Billy Summers is a freelance photographer who also reviews films for the Putnam Herald. He can be reached at summers855@yahoo.com.