'Broken' promise

'Broken' promise

Schwarzenegger delivers in ‘Last Stand,' but Crowe and Wahlberg can’t fix ‘Broken City'

By Carl Kozlowski 01/18/2013

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After a decade spent unsuccessfully battling budget deficits and Democrats, not to mention an embarrassing sex scandal that destroyed his marriage, most people would likely understand if Arnold Schwarzenegger opted to disappear quietly into retirement. Yet, this weekend, the Governator is back with the new thriller “The Last Stand,” a film riddled with as many clichés and plot gaps as bullets holes, yet remains hokey fun, offering some interesting insights into the aging star’s mindset.

Schwarzenegger plays Ray Owens, a retired LAPD officer who is now the sheriff of the sleepy Arizona desert town called Summerton. Director Jee-Woon Kim (a hot South Korean filmmaker making his Hollywood debut) and first-time screenwriter Andrew Knauer do a good job of setting up the town’s eccentric locals and ridiculously banal ideas of what constitutes crime in these backwater environs.

But, within minutes, Owens becomes suspicious of a couple of out-of-town truckers, who seem a little too happy to be in the town diner. Meanwhile, in Las Vegas, a Mexican drug lord named Gabriel Cortez (Eduardo Noriega) is broken out of an FBI prison-transfer convoy led by Agent John Bannister (Forest Whitaker) and takes off in a super-speedy car. Cortez is racing for the Mexican border, counting on getting there and achieving freedom by crossing a specially built bridge across a canyon just outside of Summerton.

The bridge is being built by the truckers and their henchmen, meaning Cortez is blasting toward town and setting  up a confrontation with Schwarzenegger, his hapless deputies and a few townspeople, among them an eccentric gun nut played by Johnny Knoxville.

Granted, you don’t have to be a brain surgeon to follow the plot of “The Last Stand,” and some elements are downright absurd — like the idea that a team of about a dozen thugs could build a suspension bridge across a canyon within two days. But like all of Arnold’s best films, it has a sense of humor about itself, particularly in dealing with the fact that the sheriff is getting close to retirement age in his second career and is at a point where he really gets hurt when he takes a punch or falls off a building.

The story structure of the film is as haphazard as the bridge at the core of its plot, with the action jumping for big chunks of time between Whitaker’s federal agents and Schwarzenegger’s screwy locals, leaving each faction off screen for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Yet, Schwarzenegger is still undeniably fun to watch and is actually a welcome sight in an action-film landscape that’s been largely lacking in he-men since he headed for Sacramento. All in all, “The Last Stand” is big, dumb fun for those who want a few laughs while watching a lot of stuff blow up.

Surprisingly, the weekend’s other major release, “Broken City,” has a higher pedigree of talent, yet isn’t half as much fun. Mark Wahlberg stars as Billy Taggart, a disgraced New York City cop turned struggling private eye who gets hired by Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) to spy on his wife, who’s having an affair, in hopes of managing any potentially scandalous leaks as his re-election campaign heads into the final weekend before the city’s voters hit the polls.

The film gets off to a gritty start and has plenty of profanely snappy patter between its tough-talking stars. But Taggart should realize something’s fishy from the start, as Hostetler pays him a cool $50,000 for the fairly simple assignment.

When the mayor’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) tricks him into a private meeting and offers him $50,000 to leave her alone, Taggart learns that she isn’t really having an affair. She’s actually meeting with the wife of the campaign manager of her husband’s opponent, and the two are swapping secrets about a real estate scandal Hostetler is spearheading. 

So far, so good. But when an unexpected murder occurs, the film starts to fall apart, due mainly to the illogical behavior of numerous characters affected by the death.

 

Not only is “Broken City” weak at the script level, but it also suffers from occasionally lethargic performances by its two leads. For a guy who should be able to own a room with his presence, Wahlberg mumbles an awful lot.

 

And for a billionaire mayor, Crowe has a haircut that’s so lousy it’s distracting. But worst of all, “Broken City” suffers from the same problem as Tom Cruise’s “Jack Reacher”: When the actual secret plot is finally revealed, it’s simply not nefarious enough.

It was good to see Wahlberg stretch his comedic muscles in last summer’s “Ted.” One can only hope he’ll continue in that direction.

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