Guess what? Politicians are corrupt. If that news is surprising, then Broken City might turn more into the taut and gritty thriller it wants to be, rather than the cliched soap opera that it becomes.
Still, there’s a modest level of entertainment value in this slick potboiler of urban intrigue from director Allen Hughes, who is half of the sibling team that directed Menace II Society and, more recently, The Book of Eli.
Hughes brings visual flair along with a competent cast to an otherwise mundane combination of silly plot twists and unrealized noir ideas that nevertheless doesn’t fulfill its potential given some of the topical subject matter.
The story takes place in New York, where the conservative mayor (Russell Crowe) is in the midst of a tight re-election campaign. His opponent (Barry Pepper) is a progressive councilman with sharp ideas but little clout among the social and financial elite.
Enter Billy (Mark Wahlberg), a working-class Brooklyn native who was exonerated after killing a suspect during a stint as a police detective, and now operates his own collections agency. When the mayor hires Billy only days before the election to investigate his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) for adultery, Billy takes the offer at face value.
Billy becomes reluctant allies with the hard-boiled police chief (Jeffrey Wright), but realizes too late that he has become a pawn in a high-stakes scheme involving shady real-estate dealings, under-the-table payoffs and even murder, and that his own downward spiral is the result.
The screenplay by newcomer Brian Tucker treads familiar ground but develops some mild suspense, missing a larger opportunity to offer insight into contemporary politics at the municipal level or to seriously address some of the socioeconomic issues it casually presents.
Crowe seems slightly awkward with a New York accent, but his character is convincing, that of a smarmy contemporary politician only concerned with gaining votes and protecting his public image. Wahlberg makes an appealing hero who’s relatively innocent but gets caught in the middle of all the corruption.
Yet by the end, all of the backstabbing, double-crossing and macho posturing leads to one preposterous twist after another, making Broken City feel more like a broken record.
Rated R, 109 minutes.