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'Broken City' traps actors inside a broken movie

11:53 AM, Jan. 17, 2013
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Mark Wahlberg stars in 'Broken City.' / photos courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox

‘Broken City’

Rated: R for violence, profaminty and sexual contgent.
Star rating:★½

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There is a scene in “Broken City” in which two characters are inside a theater, watching another film called “Kiss of Life.” It’s a very meta moment: Actors stuck in a bad movie are watching actors playing actors stuck in a bad movie. Will the nightmare ever end?

“Broken City” is the kind of hard-boiled claptrap that seems to appeal to Mark Wahlberg. He plays a (surprise) tough-talking, heavy-fisted New York detective named Billy Taggart. He also has a wise-cracking young assistant (Alona Tal); take away the profanity and you could have the pilot for a new CBS crime drama, circa 1978.

Mayor Nick Hostetler hires Taggart to investigate his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whom he suspects of cheating. The mayor is played by a particularly hammy Russell Crowe in big, broad strokes. The actor is literally quite colorful; the makeup crew went a little overboard with the orange powder, making Crowe resemble an Oompa-Loompa at times.

There is a lot of cheating and double-dealing, as the movie is full of crooked cops and dirty politicians. There are plot twists galore, but they unfold in hamfisted fashion, as if the screenwriter (newbie Brian Tucker) didn’t know how to layer the mystery. Instead, the movie simply drops these secrets out of nowhere, in clunky fashion.

Tucker also has a terrible ear for dialogue. The characters talk like rejects from Detective Fiction 101. A police commissioner (Jeffrey Wright) warns Taggart that he plans to put Hostetler behind bars, “like a gorilla, and you’ll be next to him, sucking bananas.” And no, the line is not meant to inspire a laugh.

The film also sets up plot threads and fails to resolve them. Taggart’s drinking problem is one such item, as is his relationship with an actress (Natalie Martinez). The whole thing feels sloppily unfocused, and it can’t even generate B-movie thrills.

“Broken City?” More like “Broken Movie.”

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