Broken City (15) 109 mins **
Every now and again, someone has the bright idea of getting two of Hollywood’s buffest tough guys to lock antlers, and the results are usually a dull thunk. Here, it’s Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, dropped into a flatfooted latter-day conspiracy with – as references to “Sing-Sing” and “shamuses” make apparent – aspirations/pretensions towards being a 1930s gumshoe movie. Instead of Bogart, we have Wahlberg as Jimmy Taggart, an ex-NYPD cop turned private detective; Crowe’s the hardline Mayor who, on the eve of re-election, recruits Taggart to tail his apparently faithless wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
The scorecard will show that Wahlberg, doing extreme brow-furrowing, outpoints his flabby, coasting co-star, but Allen Hughes’ film keeps finding ways to make everybody look silly. Marky Mark’s drunk scene, intended to reveal his character’s inner turmoil, isn’t quite as laughable as Rusty Russ’s style choices (hair by Donald Trump, tan by Jordan), yet it’s funnier than the old-school misogyny implying that Zeta-Jones has been sleeping with everyone in sight.
Hughes’ early ‘hood classics (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents) gained their considerable force from keeping close to the streets. Here, given access to swanky penthouses and flashy helicopter shots, he delivers on the jaw-clenching and bone-crunching, but struggles to make key plot details ring true. The sketchy view of the independent film scene Wahlberg’s actress squeeze is involved in suggests Hughes has badly lost touch with his roots – and who’d vote for Russell Crowe as Mayor of New York?
Broken City is in cinemas nationwide.