There's a movie within a movie about halfway through Broken City. Our connection to this movie, Kiss of Life, is tenuous: Our protagonist, a lunkheaded cop played by Mark Wahllberg, is dating the lead actress in what he derisively calls "an indie movie." The movie is called Kiss of Life, and it's an art film directed by someone who hates art films: The font of the title and credits is flowery and amateurish, much of the movie seems to consist of a young couple sitting on the beach, staring out at the ocean, saying faux-deep, semi-romantic things to one another. Wahlberg is super-uncomfortable all through Kiss of Life, especially when his girlfriend takes part in a sex scene. Afterward, at the opening night party, he gets drunk and acts like an asshole. That's about the last we see of Kiss of Life; it's a weird interlude that seems to exist in Broken City so Wahlberg's character can express his manly discomfort with all the gay people who worked on the movie. It's not that he's homophobic, you see; the poor dear just hates it when gays throw their gayness in his face, is all.
Kiss of Life is a tiny, almost inconsequential part of Broken City, but I think it's very telling. Broken City is supposed to be a macho cop thriller about a disgraced cop who gets sucked into an elaborate plot involving the mayor (or, in Wahlberguese: "Duh mayuh"). Russell Crowe plays duh mayuh, and he's about as boring as Russell Crowe has been for the last few years. He's supposed to be charismatic, a dog-lover and hunting aficionado who collects the pelts of his political enemies. Instead, he just snarls a lot and tries to sound tough. The plot involves a dead guy, a possible affair, duh mayuh's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones, sounding out of place with her impersonation of a moll from a 50s film noir) and a bunch of people chasing after an incriminating piece of paper that I'm pretty sure in the real world could be obtained in city records by anyone who wanted to see it. There are betrayals (as Wahlberg says about duh mayuh when he learns about one of those betrayals: "Dat bastid!") and predictable double-crosses and lots of homophobia. As far as cheesy movies, it ends up being on the opposite end of the spectrum from Kiss of Life: conservative, packed with on-the-nose dialogue, and unwilling to let any of its characters show a single real emotion for fear of looking too sissy.
Broken City is the first solo effort from Allen Hughes of the Hughes Brothers, and based on the evidence of the movie I saw, it seems his twin brother Albert must be the one with the flair for filmmaking. Like the script, the cinematography and visual vocabulary of Broken City is uninspired and uninteresting. There's no action, and the plot beats are all so dumb that the audience can think of six solutions for each individual problem before Wahlberg, grinding his jaw, can even come up with one. This is the kind of movie you let loose when nobody is around, hoping that the stench will waft away before anyone notices.