Welcome to the broken city, where everything is ruined and corrupt, a place where nothing is as it seems, where everyone has secrets and agendas, where honorable anti-heroes with dark pasts can get double-crossed and mixed up with good guys who're really bad guys and betrayed by the one woman they thought they could trust, where doing the right thing will put you in too deep. It's a drag to be here.
It's an especially bothersome place because it's made entirely of movie-cardboard and annoying, fake tough guys and a script that gives you nobody to pin your hope for redemption on (although the film would like it very much if you considered star/producer Mark Wahlberg for that honor). Everything on screen feels about as important as your choice of candy at concession.
Former New York cop Billy Taggart (Wahlberg, trying hard), banished from the force after killing a teenage rapist/murderer, works as a private detective specializing in cheatin' hearts. When the mayor (Russell Crowe, appropriately sleazy) hires him to track down the man having an affair with Mrs. Mayor (an icy Catherine Zeta Jones), Taggart finds himself in a maze of lies, hidden motives, shady deals, blackmail, closeted affairs, corruption and the weirdo shock of realizing that his indie actress wife (Natalie Martinez) has made a film where she has a sex scene with another character. Real life crimes and misdemeanors are something Taggart can handle. He was a streetwise cop, after all. But when confronted with fake sex events committed by actors, he loses his grip. What exactly did he think would happen when she took acting somewhere? It's a mystery.
And that's just one example of director Allen Hughes's habit here of confused digression. Entire scenes are devoted to meaningless banter about nothing at all, acclaimed character actors like Jeffrey Wright are never given a chance to really do much of what they were hired for in the first place, fleshed out conversations that would take place in any real life political conspiracy are truncated, all the better to obfuscate or further tie up the knotty intrigue. So where tension and high stakes should tease out an emotionally devastated response from our hero, possibly Wahlberg's own "Forget it, Jake, it's Chinatown," instead the plot points pile up and find themselves slowly bulldozed into a landfill of overused gritty-city thriller tropes.
To muster concern for the point or outcome of Broken City will require extreme levels of fandom for its stars (and after Les Miserables, Russell Crowe, in particular, would really appreciate your kind support). But if it's coherent commentary on the cruel machinations of city politics that you're hoping to see, a glimpse behind the veil of how we live now, you'll get more truthful insight from any random episode of Parks and Recreation.