With absolutely nothing new, unique or even partially original about 2012’s Contraband, you might think this is the start of a very negative review. You would be wrong although to be fair it’s not a particularly positive review either. It’s an entertaining enough movie that drifts and drifts some more, borrowing liberally from countless other crime thrillers.
Putting his smuggler past behind him, Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) has moved on with a clean slate and a family, including wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and two boys. He’s well known for his smuggling abilities, but he’s decided to move on until his brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), opts to become a smuggler for himself. Things go poorly on an operation, and now murderous, intimidating thug Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) is threatening Andy, and even Chris and his family, demanding a debt be paid. He wanted to leave the smuggling world, but now for the safety of his family, Chris heads to Panama to pull off one last job. Time may be running out though.
I didn’t go into this movie with particularly high expectations. I went into with moderate hopes, mostly because I’m a big fan of Mark Wahlberg and little else. More on the star later, but the movie is immediately hamstrung by a complete lack of originality. It’s “borrows” the most from Gone in 60 Seconds with a dose of Heat, Fast Five, The Town and basically any other crime thriller of the last 20 years thrown in for good measure. The positive? All those movies are good so by association, ‘Contraband’ can’t be truly bad. The negative? It can’t be truly good either. You’ve seen it before so it’s hard to go along with the movie. The New Orleans locations provide a cool backdrop as well, but as far as originality, that's as far as things go.
With all those different elements working against and with each other, the story is one mess on top of each other. Forced to get back into smuggling (well, sort of, Chris actually really loves smuggling and all its adrenaline-pumping thrills), he figures a plan effortlessly and without much preparation. Apparently, the black market and smuggling world is easy to get back into after being away for years starting a family. Once Chris does get on board a ship heading to Panama (captained by a bullying but mostly clueless J.K. Simmons), things come together even quicker. The story drifts along as Chris and partner-in-crime Danny (Lukas Haas) get dragged into a Panamanian armored car robbery – random detour much? – with Diego Luna's gangster in a race against time. The goal is always the same – save the family – but getting there takes far too long.
Thanks to a Saturday Night Live skit over the last couple years, Wahlberg has taken more abuse than usual pertaining to his one-note acting range. It’s hard to argue with the criticism, but because he’s such a likable star on-screen, it’s also hard not to root for Wahlberg and enjoy his movies. I’ve read comparisons to him as a Charles Bronson for the 2000s, and that’s a pretty spot-on comparison. He is an actor and a movie star very comfortable in a certain niche with a specific part. Shakespeare might not be his ideal role, but a former smuggler turned pissed off family man? That’s about as perfect a part as possible for Mr. Wahlberg. Oh, and he’s cooler than you so don’t mess with him or his family.
Filling out the rest of the cast, certain names pop out but because of that bouncy script, but no one leaves a really positive impression. Beckinsale is given nothing to do other than to look like she loves Wahlberg in a few scenes, act terrified in a few others, and then look lovingly at Wahlberg again. Damsel in distress most definitely. Simmons is wasted as Capt. Camp unfortunately, his intentions all over the place. Ribisi hams it up as only Ribisi can, an indecipherable accent mixed with amazing facial hair and tattoos bringing this character together. Who else can ham it up like Ribisi? That would be Ben Foster as Sebastian, Chris’ former partner in crime who gets himself into some $ trouble, but is not given much to do in a predictable supporting part. Also look for as Chris’ current accomplice, and William Lucking in a quick part as his dad.
Entertaining and mindless enough, but not worth more than one watch. And I’ll just say this and be done with it. Yes, I know it’s a movie, and yes, I know we’re supposed to root for someone here. Wahlberg’s Chris is an anti-hero because the movie requires it, but he’s smuggling millions of dollars of counterfeit money into the U.S. Huh? I realize it won’t actually cripple the U.S. economy, but it did seem a weird touch. Should we actually be rooting for him? Eh, who cares? Look, more gunfire and explosions!
Contraband <---trailer (2012): ** ½ /****