Last weekend, it was 1950’s Los Angeles. This week, it’s contemporary New York. It’s still about corruption, betrayal, and bang-bang. Co-producer Mark Wahlberg plays Billy, a cop exonerated after he killed a suspect because there was not enough evidence to refute his claim of self-defense. Mayor Nick Hostetler (Russell Crowe in a very bad Boehner-orange spray tan) congratulates him and then explains with engaging directness and considerable charm why Billy still has to leave the police force. “It is a necessity that we remain un-f’d.”
Seven years later, Billy is almost making a living as a private investigator. He is good at his job but he is too nice a guy to push for payment. His loyal and very beautiful assistant Katy (a likably sharp performance by Alona Tal) reminds him that they are broke because their overdue accounts amount to $42,000, which leads to a pointless scene of phone calls using assorted tactics to get people to pay. There are a bunch more pointless scenes in the film but I cannot say they are any worse than the pointed ones.
Billy hears from Mayor Hostetler, who wants to hire him for the same purpose as all of his other clients but for a lot more money. Hostetler wants to pay Billy $50,000 to find out who is having an affair with his wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta Jones). Billy takes the pictures but then, just as the mayor snatches them out of his pocket, it begins to dawn on him (he may be a cop, but he is not much of a detective) that things may not be what they seem and people may not be telling the truth, starting with the mayor.
All of this is happening in the midst of a tough re-election campaign. Hostetler likes to come across as one of the guys, rough, sometimes crude, but effective. He tries to paint his opponent, Jack Valiant (Barry Pepper) — names are not this movie’s strong point — as an out of touch elitist who comes from Connecticut and went to Harvard. But a controversial sweetheart sale of public housing to a private developer (a seedy-looking Griffin Dunne) has tightened the race. Guess what! That surveillance job was not about an affair after all. One clue? Despite a massive shredding operation in the bad guy’s expensive lair/manor, the evidence conveniently shows up in the garbage can in mint condition, not even any coffee grounds or banana peels stuck to it.
It feels like they were making this up as they went along, without regard to what has already happened. A detour about Billy’s actress girlfriend (the very lovely Natalie Martinez) and his fall off the wagon just drags things out in between the chases and shoot-outs. It’s too bad to see top talent slumming in an underwritten, under-thought, under-whelming piece of multiplex fodder.
Parents should know that this film has constant very strong and crude language, sexual references and explicit situations with brief nudity, drinking and drunkenness, shooting, fighting, car crash, corruption, rape (offscreen), and characters who are injured and killed.
Family discussion: What did Billy’s relationship with Natalie tell you about him? Why did he visit her parents? What will happen to him?
If you like this, try: “Inside Man”