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.

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