Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe can't fix Broken City

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Starring Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Rated 14A. Now playing at Cineplex Odeon International Village. 

Broken City wants to be an updated version of one those gritty melodramas from the ’50s. (Think Richard Widmark or Burt Lancaster featured in the kind of trailer that screams Urban Corruption! in blazing headlines.) Thanks largely to a hopelessly muddled script by Brian Tucker, it never gets there.

Working for the first time without his brother Albert as codirector, Allen Hughes (The Book of Eli) assembles a promising cast for his solo debut behind the camera. Mark Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, an ex-cop turned private investigator whose career in the NYPD was cut short thanks to a controversial shooting.

Things aren’t going well for Billy. His actor girlfriend (Natalie Martinez) is embarrassed by his less than liberal views, and none of his clients bother to pay their bills. So when the mayor of New York (Russell Crowe) offers to pay Taggart 50 grand to work on a sensitive case, he jumps at the chance.

The mayor suspects his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is cheating on him. In the middle of a fierce election campaign, he wants to get the goods on her before his political opponents can use the scandal against him. With the help of his devoted assistant (an appealing Alona Tal), Taggart figures he’ll finish up quickly.

Of course, things aren’t quite what they seem. Before long, Billy finds himself involved in everything from murder to a big-time real-estate scandal. It should all be wickedly juicy and suspenseful, but Tucker’s overreaching screenplay—packed with unnecessary subplots that insist on misfiring—is surprisingly dry and lifeless. It doesn’t help that he seems stubbornly determined to make Taggart unlikable.

We’re left with the pleasure of watching Crowe play a sleazy politician, with obvious relish. But in a movie that underplays the considerable talents of everyone from Zeta-Jones to Kyle Chandler, it’s not nearly enough.

Watch the trailer for Broken City.
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