It should come as no surprise that every character in a movie called "Broken City" is either rotten to the core, or a liar, or a schemer, or the bearer of seriously damaging secrets.
What is surprising – and frustrating, really – is that these characters never feel like real people, despite a series of twists that should reveal hidden, unexpected facets of their personalities and despite being played by big-name stars including Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones. They're all still conniving, only with varying alliances and targets.
At the center of these dizzying double crosses is Wahlberg as Billy Taggart, a former New York police detective who got kicked off the force after a questionable shooting. Seven years later, Billy is barely getting by as a private eye in Brooklyn. He is, however, sober these days and enjoying life with his gorgeous actress-girlfriend (Natalie Martinez) who's just starred in her first film. (Clips of the movie, which we see at the premiere, have the glossy, stilted look of a commercial for erectile dysfunction medication, just one of many elements of director Allen Hughes' film that feel distractingly unconvincing.)
Then one day, New York City Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Crowe), who'd always been on Billy's side, hires Billy to investigate whether his wife (Zeta-Jones) is having an affair. Hostetler is up for re-election in a week and doesn't want to lose to his young, well-financed challenger, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), over scandalous revelations that he's being cuckolded.
But Billy's digging, with the help of his wisecracking assistant (Alona Tal, who shares some amusing banter with Wahlberg), leads to layers upon layers of discoveries that indicate that the mayor is setting him up. These involve Valliant, Valliant's campaign manager (Kyle Chandler), the police commissioner (Jeffrey Wright) and some wealthy, well-connected land developers. Everything is simultaneously too complicated and overly spelled-out in Brian Tucker's script, and none of it is terribly intriguing.
Hughes, best known as one-half of the filmmaking Hughes Brothers ("Menace II Society," "The Book of Eli"), has come up with a forgettable piece of pulp with some uncomfortable injections of humor and a weird homophobic streak.
For a supposedly great detective, Wahlberg's character always seems sort of startled and one step behind. When Billy finally does fall off the wagon – which is no big shocker, given how much he talks about his sobriety – neither the drinking nor the recovery feels authentic. Crowe is singularly sleazy behind his inconsistent New York accent. And Zeta-Jones, despite being confident and well-coifed at all times, feels underused in a poorly developed (but theoretically pivotal) supporting part.
Everyone involved here has made and will make vastly better films. Time to deposit that paycheck and move on.
"Broken City," a 20th Century Fox release, is rated R for pervasive language, some violence and sexual content. Running time: 108 minutes. One and a half stars out of four.
Motion Picture Association of America rating definition for R: Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
'Gangster Squad' (Jan. 11)
Bumped from 2012 after the tragic murders at a "Dark Knight Rises" screening in Aurora, Colo. this past July, "Gangster Squad" puts Ryan Gosling back in theaters for the first time since 2011.
'The Last Stand' (Jan. 18)
He told you he'd be back.
'Warm Bodies' (Feb. 1)
Nicholas Hoult (Jennifer Lawrence's boyfriend) stars as a zombie who finds love in this comedy from "50/50" director Jonathan Levine.
'Side Effects' (Feb. 8)
Steven Soderbergh's final theatrical film co-stars his "Magic Mike" muse Channing Tatum, so you know it must be good.
'Identity Thief' (Feb. 8)
Get used to seeing Melissa McCarthy. The "Bridesmaids" scene-stealer stars in two high profile comedies in 2013. "Identity Thief" is the first. From "Horrible Bosses" director Seth Gordon.
'A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III' (Feb. 8)
Actual movie alert: Jason Schwartzman (!), Bill Murray (!!) and Charlie Sheen (!!!) star in a new comedy from director Roman Coppola.
'A Good Day To Die Hard' (Feb. 14)
Happy Valentine's Day, motherf---er!
'Stoker' (March 1)
Fresh off her wet and wild performance in "The Paperboy," Nicole Kidman stars as mommie dearest in "Stoker," the English-language debut from director Park Chan-wook ("Oldboy").
'Oz The Great and Powerful' (March 8)
We're off to see the wizard, and he looks like ... James Franco.
'Admission' (March 8)
Tina Fey and Paul Rudd made a movie together so you can die now.
'The Incredible Burt Wonderstone' (March 15)
Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi star as a pair of fading Las Vegas magicians who try to overcome a younger(ish) upstart played by Jim Carrey. This one has the best bad wigs since "Kingpin." Alan Arkin and James Gandolfini co-star to help with your "Argo"/"Zero Dark Thirty" fanfic.
'G.I. Joe Retaliation' (March 29)
Go, Joe! Set for release in the summer of 2012, "G.I. Joe Retaliation" will arrive in theaters in 2013 with more dimensions (it's in 3D) and more Channing Tatum (reshoots were done to add the 2012 It-Boy to further scenes).
'Place Beyond the Pines' (March 29)
More Gosling! 2012 was unfortunately devoid of The Gos, but 2013 will feel like 2011 all over again. In addition to "Gangster Squad," Gosling stars with Bradley Cooper in this indie thriller from Derek Cianfrance ("Blue Valentine").
'The Heat' (April 5)
Sandra Bullock + Melissa McCarthy + "Bridesmaids" director Paul Feig (x) M.I.A.'s "Bad Girls" = !!
'The Company You Keep' (April 5)
Robert Redford directs an all-star cast (including himself) in this political thriller.
'42' (April 12)
A look at how Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to break baseball's color barrier. Harrison Ford (and some hilarious make-up left over from "J. Edgar") stars as Branch Rickey.
'To The Wonder' (April 12)
According to star Ben Affleck, "To the Wonder" makes "The Tree of Life" look like "Transformers." Terrence Malick forever, y'all!
'Oblivion' (April 19)
Tom Cruise stars as <strike>WALL*E</strike> an engineer working on the remnants of Earth to repair drones in the post-apocalyptic future. Spoiler: He's not alone. From director Joseph Kosinski ("TRON: Legacy").
'Pain & Gain' (April 26)
Michael Bay's own private "Out of Sight": The passion project -- based on a Miami New Times article series -- stars Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson as a pair of steroid-addled bodybuilders whose kidnapping and extortion plans go wrong.
'Iron Man 3' (May 3)
He's back and darker than ever -- at least judging from the trailers thus far. Director Shane Black ("Kiss Kiss Bang Bang") replaced Jon Favreau.
'The Great Gatsby' (May 10)
All Gats everything. Baz Luhrmann -- with some help from Jay-Z -- adapts the famed F. Scott Fitzgerald novel of excess in West Egg. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the title great one; Tobey Maguire is Nick Carraway.
'Star Trek Into Darkness' (May 17)
Secrets: The final frontier. J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek" sequel is a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in three dimensions. Benedict Cumberbatch plays the bad guy who isn't Khan. (Or is he?)
'Frances Ha' (May 17)
The 2012 festival favorite stars Greta Gerwig as the title Frances, a young woman who doesn't totally have her life together (but does have it together enough to dance down the street while David Bowie plays on the soundtrack). Noah Baumbach directs.
'The Hangover Part III' (May 24)
Last call for The Wolf Pack.
'Fast Six' (May 24)
Yep, another one.
'After Earth' (June 7)
Will Smith stars with his son Jaden Smith in the latest from M. Night Shyamalan.
'Now You See Me' (June 7)
What happens when "Inception" meets "The Prestige"? This, apparently.
'The Internship' (June 7)
You never got that "Wedding Crashers" sequel, so "The Internship" will have to suffice. Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson star, of course.
'Man of Steel' (June 14)
You will believe Zack Snyder can make a good movie.
'This Is The End' (June 14)
The incredibly filthy (and funny) red band trailer above does more to goose enthusiasm than any little blurb could ever hope. Early contender for the most lolarious movie of 2013.
'World War Z' (June 21)
Brad Pitt fights zombies.
'Monsters University' (June 21)
This prequel to "Monsters Inc." takes Sully and Mike back to college.
'White House Down' (June 28)
Jamie Foxx is the President of the United States. Channing Tatum is the Secret Service agent in charge of protecting him. Roland Emmerich is the director. This is going to be the most ridiculous(ly awesome) blockbuster of 2013.
'The Lone Ranger' (July 3)
Johnny Depp plays Tonto in this big-screen adaptation of "The Lone Ranger" from "Pirates of the Caribbean" director Gore Verbinski.
'Pacific Rim' (July 12)
Monsters vs. robots!
'Grown Ups 2' (July 12)
Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, David Spade and Kevin James reunite for another installment of "Grown Ups." From the files of "why not?": Taylor Lautner co-stars.
'Elysium' (Aug. 9)
Neill Blomkamp's last film was "District 9," so everyone should be sufficiently excited for "Elysium." Matt Damon and Jodie Foster star.
'R.I.P.D.' (July 19)
Nothing says summer action duo like Jeff Bridges and Ryan Reynolds.
'The Wolverine' (July 26)
He's back and better than ever. At least that's what everybody hopes following "X-Men Origins: Wolverine."
'The To-Do List' (Aug. 16)
Aubrey Plaza's indie sex comedy stars your favorite people (Plaza, Rachel Bilson, Connie Britton, Bill Hader, Alia Shawkat, Andy Samberg).
'Runner Runner' (Sept. 27)
Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake go toe-to-toe in this drama about online gambling
'Delivery Man' (Oct. 4)
Vince Vaughn is back in a new comedy about a man who realizes his many trips to the sperm bank 20 years earlier led to 533 children. Yep. TV faves Chris Pratt and Cobie Smulders co-star.
'Captain Phillips' (Oct. 11)
The first of two potential Oscar movies from Tom Hanks focuses on Richard Phillips, who took on Somali pirates and survived. Paul Greengrass (the "Bourne" franchise) directs.
'Oldboy' (Oct. 11)
Spike Lee's remake of the cult South Korean film from Chan-wook Park stars Josh Brolin as a revenge-seeking mystery man.
'The World's End' (Oct. 25)
Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright. See you there.
'Thor: The Dark World' (Nov. 8)
Move over, Avengers. The sequel to "Thor" puts your favorite god (Chris Hemsworth) back in front of his own movie.
'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire' (Nov. 22)
The odds are good you'll see the "Hunger Games" sequel over Thanksgiving next year.
'The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug' (Dec. 13)
Bring a snack.
'Anchorman: The Legend Continues' (Dec. 20)
He's Ron Burgundy. Again.
'Monuments Men' (Dec. 20)
What's cooler than being cool? George Clooney's World War II-era heist thriller, which stars Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray and Daniel Craig.
'Saving Mr. Banks' (Dec. 20)
Tom Hanks' second Oscar bid is about Walt Disney's efforts to make "Mary Poppins."