Broken City is a political crime thriller that goes from second- to third-rate thanks to the needless interjection of Mark Wahlberg as a dimwitted, honor-bound former New York City cop in to what can only loosely be called "the intrigue." Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, who, as the film opens, escapes a murder rap after gunning down an accused rapist that avoided punishment on a technicality.
Though he dodges a criminal sentence, Taggart is forced to resign his post as a police officer by Mayor Nick Hostetler, who is played by Russell Crowe. Hostetler gives Taggart a pat on the back and his walking papers after the emergence of some vague "new evidence," telling him he considers him a hero all the same. Some years later, Taggart is not quite scraping by as a private eye, dating the sister of the rapist's victim -- generally stuck in a rut -- when the Mayor, intertwined in a fierce election battle with Councilman Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), asks him to find proof that his wife, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, is cheating on him.
Taggart gets the evidence the Mayor needs -- an apparent bombshell, Hostetler's wife is sleeping with Valliant's campaign manager Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler) -- and the kind of paycheck that would seem to make his financial problems go away. But naturally, nothing is as it seems. The only "twist" here is that Taggart is too dumb to put the pieces together; cops aren't known as Rhodes Scholars, but anyone with a half-functioning cerebral cortex ought to have been able to see that the Mayor's shady proposed real estate development deal was at the heart of Taggart's P.I. work, to say nothing of that mysterious evidence that cost him his job.
Wahlberg, as he is wont to do, is a humorless boor. I do wish he'd take himself less seriously -- have more fun -- as he did in The Other Guys and Ted or as Jason Statham almost always does, but he seems insistent on playing a certain percentage of his lead roles with a completely straight face. I guess Broken City helps him fulfill that quota.
Either way, fixating on Wahlberg is letting the rest of the players off far too easily here. Crowe sounds like he's doing an impression of Mayor Quimby. (At least he's not singing, I guess). Pepper, Chandler and Zeta-Jones do the best they can, but ultimately they don't have much to work with thanks to Wahlberg's mailed-in-feeling performance and a script that is riddled with cliches (politicians are beholden to corporate interests at the expense of the common man, didn't you know?). I'll give Broken City credit for not tying up loose ends neatly, like so many other mediocre films in the same vein, but not for much of anything else.