Star-studded Broken City a fragmented tale of political skullduggery; Award-winning The Rabbi’s Cat is treat for animation afi

by Mark Burger

Broken City is essentially a broken movie. Bits and pieces of it are interesting, and talented people are involved, but the film never congeals into a cohesive, coherent whole. Whereas some films stretch credibility, this one yanks it.

A clumsy and convoluted political potboiler,  the film stars Mark Wahlberg (also an executive producer) as Billy Taggart, excop-turned-private-eye and quintessential film-noir patsy. At the behest of Nick Hostetler (Russell Crowe), the perennially tanned mayor of New York City, Billy contracts to keep tabs on Hostetler’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whom he suspects is having an affair. With a mayoral election upcoming, it’s quickly clear that Hostetler will let nothing stand in the way of his re-election.

Under the uninspired direction by Allen Hughes (his first solo gig without twin brother Albert co-helming), Broken City plods through its plot twists. Eventually, of course, someone turns up dead, and it’s left to Billy to somehow right the wrongs he’s enmeshed in. Wahlberg’s in stolid, stodgy form here, and a subplot involving his actress girlfriend (Natalie Martinez) is woefully extraneous to the plot. Never is the story as provocative as it thinks it is.

Crowe brings an amiable villainy to his role (it’s always fun to play a heavy), Jeffrey Wright enjoys one of his larger screen roles in recent memory (albeit in a lesser film) as a police commissioner with his own agenda and Alona Tal is appealing as Billy’s faithful gal Friday, but Zeta-Jones has little to do except look alluring and mysterious. Barry Pepper, Kyle Chandler, Michael Beach and Griffin Dunne lend a little heft to their supporting roles. The players keep Broken City watchable, but it’s no more than an average time-killer — both for them and the audience.

The animated, French-language fable The Rabbi’s Cat has been adapted in entertaining, enlightening fashion from Johan Sfar’s popular comic-book series, with Sfar and Antoine Delesvaux sharing directing chores.

Set in 1930s Algeria, the story centers on the title character (mellifluously voiced by Francois Morel), a felicitous feline with the ability to talk. Not only that, but this darn cat can expound intelligently upon politics, theology and culture. He even wants to be barmitzvahed! Not unexpectedly, the family pet’s newfound assertiveness takes the rabbi (voiced by Daniel Cohen) and his daughter Zlabya (voiced by Hafsia Herzi) by surprise.

The animation in The Rabbi’s Cat (original title: Le Chat du Rabbin) eschews the slickness of contemporary animation with a “retro” ’60s/’70s feel to it, augmented by a jaunty, jazzy score by Olivier Daviaud and a smart sense of the absurd. The film is better (and easier) enjoyed than described, and through animation it’s able to make some cogent points that might have proved burdensome in a live-action context. Suffice to say it’s not necessarily for small children, although it’s entirely likely to find great favor with animation mavens. In French with English subtitles.

The Rabbi’s Cat is playing at the Geeksboro Coffeehouse Cinema, 2134 Lawndale Drive, Greensboro LOG ONTO — click on the “Flicks” section. Then go to “What’s Showing”