‘Broken City’ beyond repairing
‘Broken City’ beyond repairing

“Broken City” is a completely forgettable film. It’s not a terrible movie; it features a solid cast and polished directing by Allen Hughes. It’s not all that good either. The script seems better suited for a Columbo mystery movie or an extended episode of “Law & Order.”

But while “Broken City” is lacking creatively and artistically, it is absolutely cunning when looked at from a business perspective. Star and producer Mark Wahlberg may never win any awards for his acting, but the guy knows a thing or two about making a buck in Hollywood.

Wahlberg stumbled on to a successful business model last year with his movie “Contraband” and it is clear he is trying to replicate that success.

If you don’t remember “Contraband,” don’t feel bad because it was as remarkably average and workman-like as “Broken City.”

It was released this very weekend in 2012, a time when movie studios dump films that they couldn’t find a way to market or are just plain lousy. By releasing them after Christmas and before the Oscars, they hope to recoup as much money as they can off of these turkeys while nobody is paying much attention.

By traditional January quality standards, “Contraband” looked like “Citizen Kane,” and while it didn’t set any box-office records, it pulled in a respectable $66 million in its domestic run and $96 million when you factor in worldwide receipts.

“Contraband” cost around $25 million to make, resulting in a roughly $75 million profit. That’s a pretty good day at the office no matter how you slice it and you can’t blame Wahlberg for wanting to give it another shot.

The formula seems to be relatively simple. Wahlberg looks for a script that has a starring role safely within his wheelhouse. In “Contraband,” he was a reformed smuggler; in “Broken City,” he is a cop-turned-private-eye. Check.

Next, find a competent yet affordable director who won’t screw things up. “Contraband” had Baltasar Kormakur; “Broken City” has Hughes. Check.

Now you have to round out the cast with recognizable, quality actors who won’t break the bank. “Contraband” had the likes of Giovanni Ribisi, Kate Beckinsale, and Ben Foster.

In “Broken City” they go a little bigger with Russell Crowe as the unscrupulous mayor of New York City who pays Wahlberg to tail his potentially adulterous wife, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. Also in the mix are Jeffrey Wright as the police commissioner, Barry Pepper as the mayor’s chief political rival, and Kyle Chandler as his campaign director. Check and check.

What makes this a sound financial strategy are the low risks and low expectations. Movies released in January aren’t supposed to do much of anything, so even if it flops there won’t be a lot of gasps of horror heard around Hollywood.

Plus, the movie is nowhere nearly terrible enough to irreparably damage any careers, so regardless of the box-office totals, all involved will live to play another day.

There are certainly worse ideas than banking on a modest budget, dependable actors, cold weather, and an audience with limited options. Take “Battleship” for instance.

And even though past performance is no guarantee of future success, if this sucker comes even close to the unassuming fortune brought in by “Contraband” then you can pretty much proclaim Wahlberg the king of the second weekend in January.

If that is the case, then I’ll see you all here again in 2014 for yet another bland, calculated Mark Wahlberg production.

“Broken City” is rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content, and violence.

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