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Lots to fix in 'Broken City'

Lou Lumenick
Sunday, February 03, 2013

Running time: 109 minutes. Rated R (violence, sexuality, profanity). At the Lincoln Square, the Union Square, others.

"If the readers of the New York Post want to reward competence, who am I to argue?" muses Mayor Nicolas Hostetler (Russell Crowe, sporting a cardigan and an even less flattering comb-over) in the political potboiler "Broken City."

To put it as positively as possible, there's never a dull moment in this flick — and that's not something you can take for granted at this time of the year. At the same time, though, there's rarely a believable moment in the script credited to first-time screenwriter Brian Tucker.

For starters, Hizzoner has wiped out a billion-dollar budget deficit by selling a Brooklyn public housing project for $4 billion(!) to a "Wall Street equity firm."

Crowe's corrupt, vaguely Giuliani-esque mayor is running behind in the polls in his bid for a third term, despite this "coup." (Of course, in the real world, selling a housing project would probably be political suicide in this city).

But Hizzoner still finds time to put on his best sweater and send for Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg, complete with Boston accent), a Brooklyn ex-cop with a dark past-turned-struggling private detective.

Billy is paid to follow the mayor's unfaithful wife (an imperious Catherine Zeta-Jones) and identify who's cuckolding him because, the city's chief exec argues, this will somehow benefit him politically.

Sure, and if you believe that, this mayor (who could simply have asked his wife's police security detail to clue him in) has a bridge in Brooklyn he'll sell you for $3 billion.

It's obviously a setup, and there's very little surprise when the ostensible lover (Kyle Chandler) — who just happens to be campaign manager for a Bloombergian billionaire (Barry Pepper) electoral challenger — turns up dead with Billy holding the bag.

There's lots more convoluted plot where that comes from, plus a back story for Billy that doesn't begin to make sense.

Seven years earlier, our hero was forced to leave the NYPD after fatally shooting a rapist-murderer who went free on a technicality.

But Billy himself escaped conviction after the mayor and his police commissioner (Jeffrey Wright) conspired to suppress evidence against Billy.

Got that?

Plus poor Billy is a recovering alcoholic who's in a fraying relationship with an actress (Natalie Martinez) who's the sister of the rapist-murderer.

And Billy's shocked, shocked, that she has a sex scene in her dreadful new indie movie, which is titled (I am not making this up) "Kiss of Life," a play on the famous film noir "Kiss of Death".

The other woman in Billy's life is his Gal Friday, played by Alona Tal, who nearly steals the film in a scene where she's threatening Billy's deadbeat customers on the phone. Under the circumstances, it's only petit larceny.

There's no shortage of incriminating evidence, red herrings or car chases in a film where Big Apple scenes are largely filmed in the Big Easy.

And it's handled with uh, competence, in first solo effort by director Allen Hughes, who's worked as a team with his brother Albert going back to the far superior "Menace II Society" (1993).

But there's only so much you can do to suppress titters at a mayoral debate where the bellowing Hostetler turns up wearing so much man-tan that he looks like he's running for mayor of Beverly Hills.

Among the film's other more hilarious moments are the revelation of the actual identity of the mayor's wife's lover, not to mention the other mayoral candidate's lover. It would be criminal to give them away.

And yes, it's less painful to watch Crowe ordering the commissioner "I want heads to roll for this!" than listening to him singing in "Les Misérables."

As far as I'm concerned, it may be worth seeing "Broken City" just to see the city's mayor refer to the New York Times as an "upscale tabloid" after it publishes a critical editorial. Not that I'm recommending you pay full price.


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