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Movie review: 'Broken City' is nicely street-smart

Broken City

Director: Allen Hughes

Cast : Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe

Rated: R (strong language, some sexual content, violence)

Running time: 109 min.

Posted 1:09am on Friday, Jan. 18, 2013

Sometimes the trailer is the best thing about a movie. Other times it doesn't do the film justice, making it seem far more routine than it really is.

Such is the case with Broken City, which looks like just another urban thriller with Mark Wahlberg flexing his usual "you-talkin'-to-me?" East Coast attitude. The reality is that, while Broken City is hardly revolutionary, it's a slyly entertaining cop saga that leans more heavily on acting and dialogue than gunplay and chases.

Wahlberg is Billy Taggart, a New York City detective who left the force under a cloud seven years ago after a high-profile shooting. Now, he's a low-rent private eye who has been reduced to taking incriminating photos of wayward spouses. To add financial insult to career injury, he then has to hound his loutish clients to get paid.

So when the pugnacious mayor (Russell Crowe) summons Billy to his office, says he thinks the city's first lady (Catherine Zeta-Jones) has been playing around, and offers him $50,000 to come up with the goods, he's more than happy to take the job. But the payday soon turns into a nightmare as Billy realizes that what seemed like a simple love triangle is really a complex web of political corruption and civic chicanery.

As directed by Allen Hughes -- in his first film that he didn't co-direct with brother Albert (The Book of Eli, Dead Presidents and Menace II Society) -- Broken City feels more in the spirit of a gumshoe classic of a previous era. People have real conversations, the puzzle at the heart of the plot is genuinely intriguing, and Wahlberg and Crowe -- who, thankfully, isn't called on to sing -- turn in strong performances as their relationship shifts from cordial to hostile.

The script, written by newcomer Brian Tucker, also includes some welcome touches of light humor, often provided by the jokey relationship Billy has with his assistant, Katy (Alona Tal, Supernatural).

Certainly, Broken City is no Chinatown, with which it shares some storyline similarities. But it also doesn't devolve into predictable action and easy resolutions, which gives it a leg up on its multiplex competition.

Now, it just needs a new trailer.

Cary Darling, 817-390-7571

Twitter: @carydar

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