Though just about anything would have been preferable to his stiff, warbling turn in last month’s Les Misérables, there’s real pleasure in watching Russell Crowe throw himself into the zesty role of a crooked New York politician. Crowe’s Mayor Hostetler is an oily, two-faced scoundrel—the kind of fat-cat foe Hollywood is churning out a lot these Occupy-minded days. A political thriller that’s never quite as smart as you wish it were, Broken City pits this scheming 1-percenter against a working-class adversary: disgraced detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), who now works as a private eye. Hired to spy on Hostetler’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), our hero uncovers a deeper conspiracy involving an upcoming election and a massive real-estate scam.
Noir in narrative if not aesthetic, Allen Hughes’s thriller trots out several familiar genre components: Wahlberg’s character is essentially a blue-collar Sam Spade, complete with spunky Girl Friday (Alona Tal), while the plot contains echoes of Chinatown. (There’s also an alcohol-fueled, dark-night-of-the-soul sequence that’s one saxophone solo away from unintentional parody.) Broken City never asks its gumshoe to repent for the blood on his own hands, and the anticorruption—but pro-vigilantism—ethics here are especially murky. While the film treats a secret gay romance with sensitivity, it also includes a scene in which Wahlberg righteously rails against the “metrosexual” friends of his girlfriend. What, are Village hipster artists not included in the 99 percent?
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