Mark Wahlberg wants to OWN MLK Day weekend at the movies

Back in his heyday, Will Smith used to brag that “July 4 weekend belongs to ME” at the movies.

Mark Wahlberg is staking his own claim to a piece of the cinematic calendar. As producer and star, he’s making sure his new film, “Broken City,” opens the same weekend as a certain hit he starred in last year.

“We opened ‘Contraband’ on Martin Luther King Day weekend last year, and that did pretty good,” he says. “Allen Hughes (director of “Broken City”) did real well the year before with ‘Book of Eli.’ So we decided not to mess with a good thing. January’s been good to us.”

The businessman in Wahlberg knows that January is traditionally a month of Oscar nominated movies that have been out a while, and the odd horror hit. Stick a good action picture in there and it can find an audience.

Wahlberg is rarely reluctant to play a mug, a tough guy or a not-that-bright-guy in comedies such as“The Other Guys,” last summer’s “Ted,” April’s “Pain & Gain.” He got his start as a model, transitioned into manufactured pop stardom and parlayed that into an acting career. So it’s always a surprise to remember that he’s one of the most career-and-bottom-line savvy guys in the business.

“He is ALL business,” says “Broken City” co-star Natalie Martinez, who plays his wife. “He may do these crazy—s diets to get himself into shape for these parts, but even that’s part of how intense he is.”

He’s produced other films, and hit TV series such as “Entourage” and “Boardwalk Empire.” He has an Oscar nomination and a couple of Golden Globe nominations under his belt. He knows good material.

“Sometimes it’s something somebody offers you,” he says. “More often, it’s something you find yourself, that you develop. You’ve got to look out for yourself in this business.”o he does. He mixes up the parts – action pictures like the upcoming “Transformers” film he’s doing, and “this comedy I really want to squeeze in before that, ‘Avon Man.’” And as easy as it would be to swagger through this role, and dumb-down for that one, he’s still, at 41, flirting with the idea of challenging himself.

““I read this ‘Broken City’ script and it reminded me of all those great corruption thrillers I loved growing up – ‘Serpico,’ ‘Chinatown.’”

Billy Taggart, his character, is a cop we meet as he is on trial for a questionable shooting. The mayor (Russell Crowe) smiles, slaps him on the back, but ends his career – with due cause. Seven years later, that mayor needs a favorite from struggling private eye Billy. Find out who the mayor’s wife is cheating with. Billy starts to feel he’s been set up for something, that no one is quite who he or she seems, in this world of politics and dirty tricks, where no crime and no favor is ever forgotten.

“We meet a guy who is lost, trying to kickstart his career by getting back in the game,” Wahlberg explains. “He’s got this thing hanging over him, but like a lot of people, he hasn’t let himself be tortured by the guilt of what he did (concealed in the film) all those years ago. He’s tried to move on. Now, he’s got another shot, and he may blow it.

“I like a guy in need of redemption,” Wahlberg says. “He’s flawed. He’s got to go out there and do something to redeem himself for this thing in his past. Love playing characters like that. He’s a mess, but he’s got to do the right thing, at some point.”

And if enough people come to see Billy’s story, “maybe I’ll be around next Martin Luther King Day weekend. You never know.”

About Roger Moore

Movie Critic, formerly with McClatchy-Tribune News Service, Orlando Sentinel, published in Spin Magazine, The World and now published here, Orlando Magazine, Autoweek Magazine
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