Longer cut of a movie review in the Friday, Jan. 18 Oregonian....
Quality-wise, the crime drama "Broken City" lives in a frustrating mid-range area: It's too complicated and competently crafted to totally dismiss as junk -- but it's also nowhere near sharp enough to work as the serious grown-up detective movie it clearly wants to be.
The story (as scripted by first-timer Brian Tucker and directed by Allen Hughes) at least has the promise of bite, introducing a trio of characters slopping about in the murkier areas of New York governance. A disgraced NYC cop (Mark Wahlberg), on trial for gunning down a bad kid under suspicious circumstances in the projects, gets a break from the mayor (Russell Crowe) and a police captain (Jeffrey Wright).
Cut to seven years later. Wahlberg is on the wagon, struggling as a two-bit private eye, with an actress girlfriend (Natalie Martinez) and a wisecracking secretary (Alona Tal). The mayor -- in danger of losing an impending election to an idealistic challenger (Barry Pepper) -- hires Wahlberg to spy on the mayor's possibly unfaithful wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones). From there, it gets complicated.
Or rather, it only gets half-complicated. And because the movie's complicated stuff feels at odds with its uncomplicated stuff, it leaves "Broken City" feeling deeply mediocre.
True to the genre (and no, I'm not really spoiling anything), Wahlberg's shamus stumbles onto a larger corruption. It's a fairly convoluted scenario involving lots of players, betrayals and pieces of paper. And even on coast, the all-star cast is certainly up to the task; it's fun to watch Wahlberg and Crowe fence a little.
But then every so often the filmmakers will drop in something that's insultingly simple-minded by comparison. Lame '80s-TV-caliber detective work. Rote action beats. The do-gooder mayoral challenger literally having the last name "Valliant." Wahlberg and Martinez suddenly having an out-of-nowhere problem spurred by something stupid because the story needs Wahlberg to be embittered and hard-boiled and fall off the wagon, or something. (The scene also suggests that Wahlberg's character has no idea what being an actress entails, seven long years into his relationship with one. Seriously?) Also, the character interrelationships get so dense you'd think there were about six people living in New York City.
But mostly, the problem is just that the dialogue is on-the-nose and not nearly as sophisticated as the story's ambitions. There's a lot of this:
Wright: "It appears he wants justice."
Mayor Crowe [grinning evilly]: "Well, nobody gets that."
Or this painful bit of "banter":
Martinez: "When you going to stop coming home looking like a slice of bloody meat?"
Wahlberg: "I thought you liked bloody meat."
Martinez: "I'm a vegetarian."
These bouts of mild dopiness result in a workmanlike drama with less-than-total command of its tone. And thus a corruption-damning actor's showcase becomes something you dismiss with a shrug.
(109 min.; rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence) Grade: C
'Broken City' (The Oregonian, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013)