Broken City

January 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones
Directed by: Allen Hughes (“Menace II Society”)
Written by: Brian Tucker (debut)

It’s not too surprising how stagnant “Broken City” plays as a political thriller. As the year starts up, studios usually look to release some of their more toothless projects in the first couple of months – films that could easily go straight to DVD, but have just enough nerve to roll the dice and see if they can pull in a few million at the box office. There’s really no risk. What are purely mainstream moviegoers going to do now anyway? Watch “Beasts of the Southern Wild?”

Studios are banking that they’re probably not, which is why easily digestible, easily forgettable films like “Broken City” rear their ugly heads every year around this time. Sure, there are always surprises (“The Grey” came out last January, which was fascinating), but more times than not, January has a bad reputation for being a cinematic dumping ground. With that said, “Broken City” needs to call in its waste management services. Not everything about the film is landfill worthy, but there enough there to make it stink.

In the overly-written script by first-time screenwriter Brian Tucker, “Broken City” starts off well enough before laying the plot down in thick and predictable chunks. Mark Wahlberg (“Shooter”) stars as Billy Taggart, a former cop turned private investigator with a shady past, hired by NYC Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) to get evidence that his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair. Of course, if it was that easy, we wouldn’t have a 109-minute movie on our hands. Deception comes from all angles as Billy maneuvers between his high-profile friends and tries to figure out who’s stabbing who in the back.

It all makes for a very typical narrative of corruption, murder, and dirty little secrets, all of which leads up to a mayoral election that can make or break everyone involved. “Broken City” would at least be tolerable if it didn’t explain everything in such a heavy-handed and complicated way, but Tucker seems just fine jamming as much as he can into the screenplay. This includes a clunky storyline about a housing project scam, which loses its way through all the twist and turns.

Director Allen Hughes (“Book of Eli”), one half of the directing duo The Hughes Brothers, doesn’t help matters much by not rousing up some energy from his big-name stars. Wahlberg and Crowe honestly look unmotivated and bored. Don’t feel bad when you do, too.

The Book of Eli

January 15, 2010 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, Mila Kunis
Directed by: Albert Hughes (“From Hell”) and Allen Hughes (“From Hell”)
Written by: Gary Whitta (debut)

In comparison to other films that feature lone travelers living in a post-apocalyptic world (“Mad Max,” “Children of Men,” “The Road”), “The Book of Eli” would be the end-of-days-movie-of-the-week. It spouts off religious banter as if it was poetic dialogue and relies on a thoughtless narrative and plot twist, which does nothing to tie up any loose ends.

Oscar winner Denzel Washington (“Training Day”) takes the lead as Eli, a road warrior-type who is traveling west on the desolate highways through a world destroyed by some type of nuclear war 30 years prior. In his backpack he carries the last-known Bible, a book he has kept safe from anyone who tries to take it from him. A machete and shotgun get the point across to the thieves and cannibals who try and make trouble for the isolated journeyman.

But trouble has a way of finding Eli no matter how many limbs he hacks off would-be agitators. When he strolls into a tumbledown town as cool as a cowboy on horseback, Eli is confronted by Carnegie (Gary Oldman), the leader of a renegade gang who has been sending his men for years to search for a copy of the Bible. He believes possessing the last Good Book on earth will give him limitless power and help him conquer the rest of humanity as an all-knowing messiah. “It’s not a book, it’s a weapon,” Carnegie gripes to his henchmen.

What he does not count on, however, is Eli’s stubbornness and refusal to give up his prized possession. Tracking him on the road when he escapes the town (not to mention taking along a pretty sidekick played by Mila Kunis of “Max Payne” and TV’s “That 70s Show”), Carnegie and his band of greasy-haired thugs will stop at nothing to get the faith-based text.

Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes, the brotherly duo who gave audiences 1993’s “Menace II Society” and 1994’s “Dead Presidents” before taking a 9-year hiatus from filmmaking after the dismal Jack the Ripper-inspired “From Hell” of 2001, there’s not much of a defense the Hugheses can give for their decision to stand behind this work. While there are some well-choreographed scenes, “The Book of Eli” lacks any common sense with a script penned by first-time screenwriter Gary Whitta. What Washington saw in this script is beyond comprehension. This is the type of role that someone like Vin Diesel was made for – a kind of second-rate addition to his “Chronicles of Riddick” series.

God may be all-forgiving, but for The Hughes Brothers and Washington, it’s going to take a little more time to get over this one.