Myth: All January movies are terrible. It's simply not true, despite the casual way that sentiment gets tossed around. The reality is that for the most part January movies are extremely mediocre. They aren't good enough to compete opposite tougher competition in later months, but they are just marketable enough to be able to scratch out a few bucks where the schedule's pretty lean. While Mark Wahlberg is certainly an A-list star who can make a film about a talking Teddy Bear into a smash hit, it's during these early weeks where he truly thrives. He's likely to find some measure of box office success again with the standard, boilerplate crime drama, Broken City.
Set amidst a ferocious snake pit of corruption in New York City, Officer Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) is a disgraced cop forced out after a questionable shooting leads to a man's death. Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) sees him as a hero, but the city still needs a scalp, and Taggart is forced to take the fall. Seven years later, he's a private investigator whose clients don't pay, and he's hanging on to his girlfriend Natalie (Natalie Martinez) who is an actress on the rise. It's clear right away that there's something deeper that both binds them together and sits like an elephant between them.
Written by first time scribe Brian Tucker, the plot lurches forward as we wait desperately for something relevant to happen. Hostetler offers Taggart a way out of his financial headaches, offering up a hefty sum to track his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and find out who she's been having an affair with. With the mayoral election days away, and facing stiff competition from a young, altruistic liberal upstart (Barry Pepper), Hostetler can't afford any surprises. But it turns out things aren't quite what they seem, and Hostetler, who makes Boss Tweed seem like a virtuous saint, has a murderous agenda at play.
Everyone has an angle, a card they're keeping close to the vest, and Tucker completely undersells or telegraphs the numerous plot twists. It's all one big power game, and the city is the chess board where despicable people wield their power over the vulnerable. From Hostetler's wife, to the police Commissioner (Jeffrey Wright), even to the dynamic between Taggart and Natalie, everyone is looking to usurp greater control in some small way.
Less of an action movie than a political mystery, the story unfolds quietly as plans unravel and Taggart slowly figures out just how tight of a bind he's in. So while he doesn't bust a lot of heads, it's still the sort of role Wahlberg knows all too well. While there are many sides to Taggart, they're all approached with the same attitude. Wahlberg is merely on auto-pilot, while Crowe at least shows more fiery aggression than he did in Les Miserables. Thankfully, no songs were harmed in the production of this movie. Wright is the sort of actor who knows how to make an impression with the least amount of screen time, and he adds considerable weight to a role that could have been forgettable. At least the film looks great, with director Allen Hughes borrowing from the Gotham City playbook in his depiction of smoky, crime-infested NYC. Hughes, who usually teams up with his brother Albert, flies solo for the first time and sets himself apart as a director to keep an eye on, assuming he gets better material to work with.
Ringing endorsement alert! Broken City is passable, occasionally entertaining but ultimately uninspiring. Like last year's Wahlberg thriller, Contraband, it's solid enough yet not worth thinking about until it appears on cable or DVD.