Though just about anything would have been preferable to his stiff, warbling turn in Les Misérables, there’s real pleasure in watching Russell Crowe throw himself into the zesty role of a crooked New York politician. Crowe’s Mayor Hostetler is an oily, two-faced scoundrel – the kind of fat-cat foe Hollywood is churning out a lot these Occupy-minded days. A political thriller that’s never quite as smart as you wish it were, Broken City pits this scheming 1-percenter against a working-class adversary: disgraced detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), who now works as a private eye. Hired to spy on Hostetler’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), our hero uncovers a deeper conspiracy involving an upcoming election and a massive real-estate scam.
Noir in narrative if not aesthetic, Allen Hughes’s thriller trots out several familiar genre components: Wahlberg’s character is essentially a blue-collar Sam Spade, complete with spunky Girl Friday (Alona Tal), while the plot contains echoes of Chinatown. (There’s also an alcohol-fueled, dark-night-of-the-soul sequence that’s one saxophone solo away from unintentional parody.) Broken City never asks its gumshoe to repent for the blood on his own hands, and the anticorruption – but pro-vigilantism – ethics here are especially murky. While the film treats a secret gay romance with sensitivity, it also includes a scene in which Wahlberg righteously rails against the “metrosexual” friends of his girlfriend. What, are Village hipster artists not included in the 99 percent?