Atrocious script sinks crime thriller Broken City

Hollywood is apparently beset by chronic illiteracy. How else to explain the participation of legitimate box-office draws like Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the atrociously written new crime thriller Broken City?

Broken City

One star (out of four)

Rated: 14A

Hollywood is apparently beset by chronic illiteracy. How else to explain the participation of legitimate box-office draws like Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones in the atrociously written new crime thriller Broken City?

Did these people — or even these people’s people — not bother to read the script first? Or did they just show up on set, hit their marks, recite their lines phonetically, then go home and count the DVD profits from their last five films?

Fortunately, none of these thriving careers will likely suffer any long-term damage, nor will those of top-tier character actors Barry Pepper and Jeffrey Wright. Broken City is not going to have much impact. It will play a few weeks at the multiplex, ignored between 3D blockbusters, and quickly make its way to video and cable TV, and then on to obscurity.

Unless it is embraced by the so-bad-it’s-good movie crowd, that is, who would probably get off on its compelling combination of hoary clichés, ludicrous dialogue, pointless plot points and cardboard characters laughably overacted.

Mind you, top-billed Wahlberg could never be accused of overacting, or even acting. He just . . . exists. We’ve never really noticed up until now because of his canny ability to choose particularly good films with lead roles ideally suited to his characteristic stoicism. Often he produces them for himself.

He did not do so here, at least not in any substantive sense.

He does take a producer’s credit, but as the 21st behind 20 others, without the customary “executive” attached. This thing has had a long and tangled development history, dating back to 2008.

Wahlberg plays a disgraced and drunken cop with a bad beard — it is barely glued on — who invokes public wrath over a sketchy shooting. Seven years later, he’s eking out a living as a private investigator, and clean and sober at the behest of his impossibly adorable actress spouse (Natalie Martinez).

That relationship and his sobriety simultaneously combust when he attends the premiere of her indie film debut and goes ballistic over a slightly too intense sex scene, roughs up the actor involved and staggers out into the streets, chugging booze by the bottle from a paper bag.

But I digress. As does the film. A lot. This plot line has very little to do with anything.

The main story involves a corrupt New York mayor, played with moustache-twirling smarm by Crowe, who claims to admire Wahlberg’s pluck and hires him to dig up dirt on his philandering wife, a similarly smarmy Zeta-Jones.

It’s not that simple. If only it were. But there is something even shadier and more complicated going on here, and it’ll take the better part of the next hour for Wahlberg to finally figure it out.

As for the aforementioned support players, Pepper goes way over the top as Crowe’s mayoral competitor, overcome with grief over the mysterious shooting of his campaign manager and lover (Kyle Chandler). Wright is well under the top, almost down to the Wahlberg standard as a suspicious official.

Chalk all this up to off-camera inexperience.

Allen Hughes directs for the first time without his twin brother, Albert — they famously collaborated on Menace II Society and, later, on From Hell and Book of Eli — and flounders in the absence of his apparently better half.

The writer, Brian Tucker, has never written a screenplay before. And, all things considered, still hasn’t. And should never be allowed to attempt to do so again.

Rob Salem is a syndicated Toronto Star movie critic. He can be reached at rsalem@thestar.ca.

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