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"Broken City" -- It should come as no surprise that every character in a movie with a title like this is either rotten to the core, or a liar, or a schemer, or the bearer of seriously damaging secrets. What is surprising is that these characters never feel like real people, despite a series of twists that should, in theory, reveal hidden, unexpected facets of their personalities and despite being played by big-name stars including Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones. They're all still conniving, only with varying alliances and targets. At the center of these dizzying double crosses is Wahlberg as Billy Taggart, a former New York police detective who got kicked off the force after a questionable shooting. Seven years later, Billy is barely getting by as a Brooklyn private eye. Then one day, the mayor (Crowe), who'd always been on Billy's side, hires Billy to investigate whether his wife (Zeta-Jones) is having an affair. He's up for re-election in a week and doesn't want to lose to a young, well-financed challenger (Barry Pepper) over revelations that he's being cuckolded. But Billy's digging leads to further revelations involving the mayor's rival, the rival's campaign manager (Kyle Chandler), the police commissioner (Jeffrey Wright) and some wealthy, well-connected land developers. Everything is simultaneously too complicated and overly spelled out. Director Allen Hughes' film is a forgettable piece of pulp. R for pervasive language, some violence and sexual content. 108 minutes.
"The Last Stand" -- The Arnold Schwarzenegger movie you didn't even realize you wanted to see. This is the action superstar's first leading role in a decade, having left acting to serve as the governor of California and whatnot, and while it may not have occurred to you to miss him during that time, it's still surprisingly good to see him on the big screen again. He is not exactly pushing himself here. Korean director Kim Jee-woon's American filmmaking debut turns out to be an extremely Schwarzeneggerish Schwarzenegger film, full of big, violent set pieces and broad comedy. He may look a little creaky (and facially freaky) these days, but Arnold proves he's still game for the mayhem as he fires off rounds and tosses off one-liners, and the movie at least has the decency to acknowledge that it knows that you know that he's old. The script also feels a bit old -- "The Last Stand" is essentially an amped-up version of "Rio Bravo," with some "Jackass"-style hijinks courtesy of Johnny Knoxville himself. A Mexican drug kingpin (Eduardo Noriega) daringly escapes federal custody and heads for a quiet Arizona border town where Schwarzenegger, as the sheriff, rounds up a posse of misfits to stop him. But Kim keeps things moving briskly and the members of the strong supporting cast (Peter Stormare, Luis Guzman, Forest Whitaker) don't seem to mind that they're playing flimsy types. Everyone's just here for a mindless good time. R for strong, bloody violence throughout and language. 107 minutes.
"LUV" -- This drama about the tragic realities of fathers and sons in unforgiving urban environs can't measure up to the lyricism of its star's own music. It stars Common, the thoughtful, charismatic Chicago rhymer who, in three- and four-minute hip-hop ruminations, summons more vibrant social imagery than these well-intended but hollow 1 hours. Taking place over a day in Baltimore, "LUV" stars Common as the former convict Vincent, who takes his 11-year-old nephew Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.) for a lesson-filled day of bonding. But Vincent's qualifications are questionable: He's desperate for the $22,000 he needs for a business loan and has gang members after him. It's a promising enough conceit -- a stressed, untrustworthy but inherently decent guy trying to play the role model -- but the day takes awkward, implausible turns, jumping from violence to stone-skipping in the harbor. The dialogue, too, is often cringe-worthy as the two meet various friends and associates of Vincent's, with cameos by Danny Glover, Dennis Haysbert, Clark Johnson and Michael Kenneth Williams. The cliches mount as the journey leads to bloody standoffs and drug dealer confrontations. Still, there is tenderness here, and first-time director Sheldon Candis should further develop his naturalistic impulse. We are, after all, not exactly showered with intimate, aspiring films of urban life. 95 minutes.