If you enjoy seeing modern action stars like Wahlberg or Jason Statham in pulpy B-movie flicks, then Contraband will be a suitable distraction.
Everything about Contraband can best be summed up in the word “average.” There’s nothing too great about this B-movie action/heist flick, but nothing too terrible about it, either. While it is overly ambitious in some respects, it ultimately lands in that middle ground of mindless (and instantly forgettable) genre entertainment, despite its shortcomings.
Mark Wahlberg channels his usual soft-spoken tough guy screen persona as Chris Farraday, a former master smuggler who has settled down into a law-abiding life as a working dad and loving husband to his gorgeous wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale). When Kate’s little brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) is forced to dump a shipment of cocaine during a high-stakes smuggling run, he lands himself, Chris, and Kate on the hook of local thug Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi).
Chris’ attempt to negotiate with Briggs is…less than successful, leaving him just two weeks to get back into the smuggling game and come up with the money owed to Briggs. With help from his best buddy Sebastian (Ben Foster), Chris rounds up a small crew of deckhands to help him pull off a scheme involving counterfeit bills waiting to be smuggled out of Panama. Of course things don’t go as planned, and there are a few of the standard heist film twists and double-crosses that leave Chris and Co. in tight spots and facing long odds.
For a glorified B-movie, Contraband has an impressive lineup of actors. Foster and Ribisi are accomplished character acting talents, and their respective characters are definite standouts (especially Ribisi’s high-pitched drawling thug). Caleb Landry Jones and Luke Haas are both young actors gaining notice, though they’re mostly window dressing here; Kate Beckinsale, on the other hand, is almost too hot to be convincing as the blue-collar Mrs. of a seasoned criminal. At this point most people know whether they like Mark Wahlberg’s bad boy persona or not, and he’s definitely playing to type in this film. Other familiar faces like J.K. Simmons (Spider-Man), Diego Luna (Y Tu Mama Tambien) and Sons of Anarchy star William Lucking all pop up here and there for some brief (but welcome) bit roles.
Contraband is, in fact, the American remake of the Icelandic film Reykjavik-Rotterdam, and while I haven’t seen that film to know for sure, the script for this American version (adapted by Aaron Guzikowski) tries to do too much with some of the subplots and supporting characters – which would’ve been more of a pronounced distraction if director Baltasar Kormakur (who produced the Icelandic version) and his team of editors hadn’t cut them down to size.
The first act of Contraband is awkwardly clipped – almost as if Kormakur had shot longer scenes but had to truncate them to keep things moving (a choice I wholeheartedly support). The main narrative unfolds at a nice pace without dragging too much – though, as stated, the moments of subplot development later in the film are often cumbersome, disjointed, and never feel effective or necessary.
The other odd thing about the film is that it doesn’t really offer a whole lot of any one element: for an action film, there’s very little action (basically one shootout/chase sequence), and for a heist film, it’s not particularly inventive or clever in its twists and surprises (most of them you can see coming way in advance). The plot is pretty much a standard point A to point B to point C progression, while we watch Wahlberg and his blue-collar cohorts breeze through the complicated process of international smuggling with such ease that it’s hard to suspend your disbelief for too long. Look for plot holes with any kind of critical eye and you will find many.
However, for all its mediocrity, most of the audience interested in Contraband will likely be satisfied with what the film delivers: Mark Wahlberg looking tough, acting tough, and delivering choice one-liners like “You think you’re the only guy with a gun?” or “I’m coming for you!” Even though some of the subplots wedged into the second and third acts venture into darker and more serious dramatic territory, thankfully they aren’t so much of a drag as to keep the film from ending on a fun (if not entirely plausible) note.
All things considered, if you enjoy seeing modern action stars like Wahlberg or Jason Statham in pulpy B-movie flicks, then Contraband will be a suitable distraction. Those with more discerning action movie palates should probably wait to catch this one on home video or basic cable.
Contraband is now playing in theaters everywhere.
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