Broken City is for indiscriminating Mark Wahlberg fans—and for those who prefer Russell Crowe when he's not bursting into song. The film screened after WW press deadlines. The verdict? Passable.
Critic's Grade: C+
Mark Wahlberg has a rare (and marketable) quality: He remains likable even when his films are not. Viewers have seen enough of his work and know enough of his backstory to feel confident that, even when his material seems questionable, his handling of it is based on good faith. It’s thus the case that Broken City
, despite being a wholly by-the-numbers yarn of political corruption and the one man who can get his hands dirty enough to get the job done (but not so dirty that he'll become part of the problem he's fighting), is somewhat passable in spite of its familiarity.
The municipal-thriller aspects of Broken City are not unlike the machinations of George Clooney's The Ides of March in microcosm: Where Clooney's film concerns a campaign worker squelching a potential scandal on the eve of a presidential election, Allen Hughes' is about a cop-turned-private investigator (Wahlberg) who gets in over his head with the obviously corrupt mayor of New York City (Russell Crowe), who is facing an election of his own. Wahlberg and Crowe spend a lot of time butting heads and not so subtly hiding their competing agendas from one another.
Wahlberg, despite his best efforts, is occasionally on tough-guy autopilot here. He plays the part better than most, but having seen him exhibit wider range in films like Three Kings and even in The Fighter, it’s difficult to give him a pass when he reverts to his comfort zone. The fact that the plotting here is so similar to that of the equally generic Shooter—in which Wahlberg is likewise entrusted with a hush-hush job and then set up to take the fall for its lethal consequences—further compounds this problem. Indeed, there isn't a single major player here who hasn't been involved in a similar-but-better project: Wahlberg has The Departed, Crowe has The Insider and Hughes has Menace II Society. (Even Catherine Zeta-Jones, who plays Crowe’s wife, was in Traffic.)
Tonal inconsistency (not to mention a few aimless subplots) threatens to derail things early on but, once it's cleared its throat and figured out what it's trying to say, Broken City settles into its role as a serviceable popcorn movie. Its aspirations toward something higher are harried at every other turn by uneven execution, but they reveal some semblance of ambition that's almost always missing in the desolate wasteland that is January at the multiplex.