Broken City

On seeing this film, I was reminded of the alleged inscription on W.C. Fields’ tombstone, “What a waste of time and money.”;

Rating: If you see this film, remember to sing the old Frank Sinatra song (with a minor ad lib) as you leave, “Regrets, I’ve had a few, but until today, too few to mention.”

Broken CityAt the risk of sounding a bit smug, Broken City is as preposterous as it is profoundly ridiculous. It is really tough to describe what is more absurd, Russell Crowe’s hair or the wretched plot itself.

Unfortunately, Director Allen Hughes’ collaborated with his brother Albert on an earlier film which was both futuristic and entertaining, The Book of Eli (2010). Revealingly, his brother is absent here, and it may not be a bad idea for Mr. Hughes to see what his brother is doing before attempting his next film.

With the exception of a compelling performance by the otherwise unknown Alona Tal, who plays Mark Wahlberg’s able assistant Kathy, there is nothing that stands out in this sorry cinematic mess. Let’s start with the talented Mr. Crowe, and I won’t again mention what appears to be his regrettable hairpiece.

Despite mixed reviews, I loved Mr. Crowe’s earlier performances of the past year. He was an enjoyable scream playing the mysterious foreign envoy with a penchant for multiple prostitutes in the over-the-top The Man with the Iron Fists. And as good as Les Misérables was, it couldn’t have sustained itself without Crowe embracing the role of the notorious Javert.

However, in Broken City, he is left spiraling out of control as a corrupt New York Mayor running for reelection. He loves no one but himself, which includes his wife, played annoyingly by Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Unlike Mr. Crowe, Ms. Zeta-Jones’ career seems to be in an unexplained free fall. Is it just me or does she truly look physically different? Her role here as the mayor’s distant wife is little more than a cameo, and it left me whining over what happened to her career.

Good Lord, I still remember vividly her vivacious performances in The Mark of Zorro (1998); Entrapment (1999); her pregnant performance in Traffic (2000); and her Oscar winning, knockout performance in Chicago (2002). Maybe marrying Michael Douglas, a man nearly 30 years older than her, has had artistic consequences.

Before I get to Mark Wahlberg, let me just give you a short glimpse of this sad plot. The mayor is running for reelection against an opponent who tried to impersonate President Obama while unfortunately resembling Happy Gilmore. Barry Pepper is woefully misplaced in that role, and he leaves you frequently stupified.

Mr. Wahlberg is an ex-cop who previously lost his job despite being cleared of allegations of killing an unarmed suspect. Here, he is hired as a private investigator by the mayor to supposedly track down Ms. Zeta-Jones’ would-be lover. Nothing is as it initially seems, which produces the same emotional effect of watching an orange go bad on the kitchen sink.

Wahlberg remains an interesting actor as seen in his recent wonderful performances in Boogie Nights (1997); Three Kings (1999); The Italian Job (2003); The Departed (2006) and The Fighter (2010). Nonetheless, he frequently plays the same character in these films and other average movies such as Planet of the Apes (2001); Four Brothers (2005); Shooter (2007) and last year’s Contraband, namely a man who literally kicks the crap out of a bevy of opponents.

In Broken City, he is a lost soul with little imagination and even less hope. Married to a beautiful Hispanic actress played by Natalie Martinez, he quickly ruins the marriage by egotistically rejecting her first film as being unworthy of his support. In doing so, he quickly jumps off the wagon and repeatedly consumes huge amounts of alcohol, joining nearly everyone else in this movie with drinking hard liquor at all times of the day.

In the end, if you truly doubt my description of this venal film, then try to figure out how Wahlberg could physically accost and abuse several good people on his side. That included Mr. Pepper several days before the election, a mayoral candidate who he brutally stuffed head-first into a tub of ice in the presence of New York’s Police Chief. (The Chief was played by the talented Jeremy Wright, who probably will avoid listing this performance in his resume.)

Along that line, I’m willing to bet that there’s not an actor in this film, with the exception of Ms. Tal, who doesn’t profoundly regret signing on to participate. You’re likely to share that feeling as you leave the theater.