A film review by Craig J. Koban
January 16, 2012
2012, R, 110 mins.
2012, R, 110 mins.
Chris: Mark Wahlberg / Kate: Kate Beckinsale / Tim:
Giovanni Ribisi / Sebastian: Ben Foster / Captain: J.K.
Simmons / Gonzalo: Diego Luna / Danny Raymer: Lukas Haas
are actually three definitions of ‘contraband’:
Goods that are illegal to possess or trade.
The name of a new action/thriller remake of a 2009 Icelandic film
The name of a new Mark Wahlberg-starring film where he goes through his
obligatory performance motions in a story that yet again retreads
one of the oldest movie formulas in the books – the former career
criminal, now legit, that is forced to go back for “one last job” because
of unforeseen events beyond his control.
As far as January releases go – which has never been a strong and fertile ground for serious, grade-A films – CONTRABAND at least never apologizes for its B-grade impulses. It’s a film that unapologetically engages in wanton vehicular pandemonium, blood curdling violence and fisticuffs, teeth-clenched standoffs, dastardly moustache-swirling villains, and themes of trust, betrayal, and revenge. If you're a male viewer...there's a lot to like here.
say that CONTRABAND – being largely coarse and unsophisticated – is
never boring or dull. I
guess that my real problem with it is that all its propulsive energy is
kind of wasted on an underlining storyline that wallows in genre clichés
and conventions. Worse yet is
that the plotting has too many glaring holes in logic and its director,
Baltasar Kormakur, does not seem to have an assured grasp of the visual style he
wants to employ. More often
than not, the film relies on too many hyper stylized camera and editorial
tricks, which results in CONTRABAND’s distracting aesthetic suffocating
any semblance of a consequential caper story to come through.
as starring vehicles go, Mark Wahlberg is certainly better than this
material, but he still demonstrates time and time again his willingness to allow
himself to wallow in roles that don’t require more of him, other than to
pout, brood, taunt, and flex his biceps a lot.
He’s in pure paycheck-grabbing auto-pilot mode here as Chris
Farraday, a one-time smuggler extraordinaire that has gone legit for the
soul reason of wanting to keep his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and their
two children safe and secure. He
has been tempted many times to go back to his old life, but he
unwaveringly stays on the honorable path.
That is, of course, until his brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry
Jones) makes a catastrophic error that requires Chris back into a life
seems that Andy made a very, very bad decision with dumping a drug
lord’s cargo when his ship is boarded by the Feds.
The dealer, Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi, bearded, tattooed, and
cartoonishly mannered and monstrously over-the-top) wants his money for the cargo and
if he does not get it he will not only murder Andy, but he'll
eventually move in on Chris and his family. Realizing that he has no choice, Chris begrudgingly decides to
help the pathetically in-over-his-head Andy. With the assistance of his
friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster), Chris decides to reunite his own Danny
Ocean-ian heist crew for a complex and dangerous final score. It involves them all smuggling loads of counterfeit $100
bills from Panama to a freighter ship and then back to New Orleans without
this plan goes unexpectedly and horribly afoul, Chris and his crew are
coerced into working with a Panamanian sociopath and art-loving nut job (a
delightfully unhinged Diego Luna) into robbing an armored car in broad
daylight, which predictably leads to even more dangerous complications.
Meanwhile, back on the home front, Briggs grows increasingly
impatient with the setbacks of Chris’ crew for securing proper payment
back for him, and he begins to take out his frustrations on Kate and her
it kind of amusingly ironic that the female action star of the UNDERWORLD
films is woefully delegated to the one-note and disposable
wounded-wife-in-danger role in CONTRABAND? The only purpose for Beckinsale’s participation here –
outside of getting paid and being a beautiful face to place amidst
all of this film's grizzled manhood – is for her to facilitate a required plot
device whereby Briggs can constantly threaten her and provide the film
with some mechanically derived suspense.
Beckinsale at least tries to infuse in her underwritten role a
tough exterior and raw edge, but she never emerges as anything more than a
victim here. Consider, if you will, how much more compelling CONTRABAND
could have been if, say, Wahlberg and Beckinsale reversed roles and it was
the husband that was abused, mistreated, and needed saving from the wife.
is also sloppily and lazily written when it comes to the heist itself
(these types of genre films are only as good as the inherent heist
presented within them) and revolves around far too many ridiculous
contrivances, half-backed plot twists, and a series of narrative
coincidences that frankly made my head hurt.
I was left asking too many questions about the logic of Chris’
plan too: Why would he bring
his hapless and untrustworthy brother-in-law along for the ride on
this caper? Andy is a
bumbling buffoon when it comes to smuggling, so wouldn’t he be a
detriment to Chris’ plan? Furthermore,
how in the world could Chris plausibly pull off such an elaborate
smuggling operation with his limited time offshore before his ship heads
back home? In the film they
conveniently have enough time to try to secure the counterfeit loot, find
out that it's tainted, and then try to secure new bills, which eventually leads them
to participating in an armored car robbery.
Then there’s the issue of getting the money on board the ship
without any detection (they hide it in an empty space behind a wall).
Not even Ethan Hunt’s Impossible Mission Force could
realistically pull off this caper.
climax is a real eye-rolling groaner as well, which involves Chris hatching an
unbelievably resourceful scheme to not only rid the world of Briggs and
save his family, but also to set up his other adversary, the cargo
ship’s unscrupulous captain (played juicily by J,K. Simmons) that has a
history with him. It’s a
miracle that Chris has the available time and resources to enact such a
profound act of multiple comeuppance, which requires certain adversaries to be in
just the right precise spots at just the right precise time for it to be
carried off successfully. Lastly,
there is the business of a $150 million dollar Jackson Pollock canvas in
the back of a van that…well…never mind.
CONTRABAND maintains a solid pacing and an eagerness to be a hard-edged, R-rated thriller that's refreshing seeing as so many other genre examples are stripped to a watered-down PG-13. Yet, the inherent ridiculousness of the underlining heist caper, the plot riddled with obligatory machinations and would-be shocking twists, and the genuine lack of directorial confidence from Kormakur hurts the film overall (the armored car robbery sequence in particular is so staccato in its editing that making visual sense of it all is borderline eye-straining). That, and if you’ve seen countless one guy forced to go bad again to save his family from a sadistic drug lord thrillers before then there's really no requirement for you to see CONTRABAND, unless you want your theater admission money smuggled right out of your wallet.