If they really wanted a title to sum up the movie, they'd
change the "C" in "City" to an "Sh." As you can guess, it wasn't quite
the viewing experience I expected. Al Pacino is excellent as always,
but is relegated to the background of the movie to deliver key speeches
from time to time. The real star of the movie is John Cusack, with
Bridget Fonda and Danny Aiello rounding out the cast. All three give
good performances, but the story itself (and its poor pacing) brings the
CITY HALL tells a story of government corruption on the
local level, corruption that unfolds when an off duty cop buying
cocaine from a mobster's son gets in a shoot-out with the mobster's
son, resulting in both their deaths and the accidental shooting death of
a small child. That's the only action in the movie. The rest of the time
we see Mayor Pacino giving speeches at press conferences and
funerals, while Deputy Mayor Cusack plays detective in his spare time,
solving the mystery of the murder.
The mystery doesn't lie in the murder itself but in the
murderer--the mobster's son. A little investigative snooping by Cusack
reveals that, at the mobster's son's trial, the recommended sentence
was twenty to thirty years, but for some reason he got off with
probation and was therefore able to cause the death of the innocent
kid. Who in the New York political hierarchy pressured the judge into
changing the sentence? Which official did the mobster bribe? Do we
care? I certainly didn't. In fact, the best part of the movie, for me, was
when I went out to the concession stand and bought a Cherry Coke
and some nachos. I paid with a twenty but didn't get any change back.
I won't bore you with the details of Cusack's search or his
ongoing sexual tension-fueled feud with Fonda, the lawyer
representing the dead cop's wife, who hired Fonda to dispel charges
that her husband was corrupt. I won't tell you about Aiello's character,
the influential Brooklyn man involved in the conspiracy. And I'm sure
not going to discuss the movie's message, that it's impossible to
survive in politics without succumbing to compromise and corruption.
CITY HALL just wasn't my cup of Cherry Coke. It moved
slowly, taking forever to reach its conclusion and, once it did, was
anti-climactic. As you can probably guess, the ending involves a long
speech from Pacino, who by this point in the movie seems more like
the president of a high school debate club than an actual character.
The story itself might have worked as a one-hour episode of "Law and
Order" or a similar show, but not as a feature-length movie.
Copyright © 1996 Andrew Hicks