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In retelling the events of the 2013 bombing at the Boston Marathon, where bombs killed three people and injured hundreds, director Peter Berg's "Patriots Day" lands between the absorbing and the problematic.

The absorbing aspects of the story come from what reporters call the "tick-tock," the minute-by-minute accounting of events as they happened. As Berg, who shares screenwriting credit with Matt Cook and Joshua Zetumer, unfolds the action, he introduces a raft of real-life figures:

• Newlyweds Patrick Downes (Christopher O'Shea) and Jessica Kensky (Rachel Brosnahan), home after a late night of work.

• Sean Collier (Jake Picking), a young police officer at MIT, nervously asking an engineering student (Lana Condor) on a date.

• Dun Meng (Jimmy O. Yang), a Chinese-American entrepreneur.

• And Jeff Pugliese (J.K. Simmons), a police sergeant in the sleepy suburb of Watertown, starting a routine patrol day.

What roles these people play in the events surrounding the bombing aren't immediately revealed, and Berg's interweaving of their stories ranges from tense to tedious.

In one house, we meet two people whose roles are very well known: brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff), the pro-Chechen terrorists who planted the two bombs that ripped through Boylston Street at the marathon's finish. (In an oddly subversive bit of casting, Tamerlan's Muslim convert wife, Katherine Russell, is played by TV's Supergirl, Melissa Benoist.)

After the bombing, Berg introduces more real people: Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis (John Goodman), FBI Special Agent Richard DesLauriers (Kevin Bacon) and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (Michael Beach) among them.

These real-life characters give "Patriots Day" the feeling of a sharp police procedural, examining the actions law officers took to identify and track the Tsarnaev brothers. The star power assembled gives it the feel of a '70s disaster movie, like "Earthquake" or "The Towering Inferno."

The maximum star power is at the movie's center, in the form of Mark Wahlberg as Boston PD officer Tommy Saunders. (It's the third movie in a row Wahlberg and Berg have made together based on real-life tragedy, after "Lone Survivor" and "Deepwater Horizon.") Saunders is fictional, a composite to represent many cops, which allows Wahlberg — with his native Boston accent and lovably pugnacious attitude — to become a walking billboard for "Boston Strong."

The most problematic aspect of "Patriots Day" centers on Wahlberg's character, who is everywhere all the time. Tommy is doing crowd control at the finish line when the bombs go off, then takes a lead role in mobilizing the first responders. Later, he's at the FBI command center, offering his street-beat expertise, and even later he's back in the field, interviewing a carjacking victim tied to the case. Still later, he pops up in Waterford, where the Tsarnaevs make their last stand.

"Patriots Day" does a solid job of depicting the thousand small stories that make up a world-changing event like the Boston Marathon bombing. Where it stumbles is when the filmmakers think we want half of those stories embodied by the same tough-talking movie star.

Twitter: @moviecricket —


'Patriots Day'

A solid chronicle of the events surrounding the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, obscured slightly by the overuse of Mark Wahlberg's star power.

Where • Theaters everywhere.

When • Opens Friday, Jan. 13.

Rating • R for violence, realistically graphic injury images, language throughout and some drug use.

Running time • 133 minutes.