When a filmmaker or star sets out to make the kind of movie that shaped their youth, they risk looking like a lesser copycat.
That certainly applies to this starry stab at neo-noir drama of the kind Mark Wahlberg recalls “watching and loving” way back when.
Solidly acted, solidly crafted, it still suffers because it fails to think beyond homage. Wahlberg is Billy Taggart, a New York cop turned private eye with a bad temper, a blotted history and an empty bank account, hired by Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) to prove Mrs Mayor (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is being unfaithful.
With an election and a big real estate deal to play for, Crowe also wants to smear liberal opponent Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper).
A glance at Crowe’s comb-over and grilled-sausage tan tells us that cover-ups and fakeries are afoot, though the cast work to enliven the obvious.
Crowe revels in the avuncular sleaze of a role Michael Douglas might once have oozed himself into and Pepper provides suitably shit-won’t-stick opposition. Yet while Wahlberg adds muscle he lacks lift.
To watch him stiffen in the banter he shares with his gal Friday Katy (Alona Tal) is to gain renewed admiration for Jack Nicholson’s dance with Chinatown’s chat-a-tat-tat script.
Directing solo, Hughes brother Allen gussies things up with portentous overhead city shots and a screeching car chase. But all this stylistic fuss runs close to resembling over-compensation for the plot’s excess of not-terribly-surprising convolutions.
Broken City wants to be taken seriously, so the things that might have made it fun are thrust to the fringes.
Broken? Not quite, but certainly damaged. City offers star power, dashes of dazzle and plenty of movie nods. But Hughes’ thriller fails to locate a life of its own.