For a while this murkily convoluted tale of New York politicking keeps a rough hold – a spiritual headlock, if you will – in the manner of a Sidney Lumet conspiracy thriller.
Mark Wahlberg plays a cop drummed out of the force and earning a crust as a gumshoe; a call from Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) embroils him in a job shadowing Hostetler's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who may be having an affair: it's election time, and he doesn't want to be wearing a cuckold's horns before the public.
Allen Hughes (From Hell) works with a strong cast – Barry Pepper as Crowe's mayoral rival, Jeffrey Wright as a police commissioner and, best of all, Alona Tal as Wahlberg's pert, Hunter-educated assistant, building a funny and touching rapport with her boss. But the wheels start coming off the plot as Wahlberg's marriage implodes and a political player is murdered.
Too much is happening at once, and not enough of it remotely believable. It's fine to proclaim that mayoral politics is lousy with corruption and connivance, but you need a script that will keep an audience in touch with why it is. For much of the time, Broken City doesn't seem to understand what's going on any better than we do.