January 17, 2012

Movie Review: Contraband

You could probably make an interesting case study out of Mark Wahlberg and the roles he gets and the movies he is in. I have never really considered him to be all that great of a actor, yet he seems to fall into a lot of decent roles in a lot of pretty good films. He is an actor of little charisma and charm, yet seems to generally be somewhat appealing. It works for him. With Contraband we again see him in the central role of a decent film. I think the most interesting thing here is hat he is actually the most compelling character we get.

I liked Contraband more in the immediate afterglow of the screening than I do now that some time has passed. It is a heist movie that hinges on you buying into the manufactured tension. To a certain degree it works, but if you pay attention to everything that happens, it gets more and more ridiculous with some crazy timing issues. I don't know, in retrospect it fails to pass the believability test. Add to that Wahlberg as the lead and the action and tension fails to really step to the next level.

As the story begins we find that Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) was smuggling something for a bad guy named Briggs (Giovani Ribisi) and is forced to dump the package when they are boarded by Customs. This leaves him in the lurch l pay back the value of the package or risk losing his life.

It so happens that his brother in law Chris (Mark Wahlberg) and his wife (Kate Beckinsale) are known for a friend's wedding. Chris just happens to be a world class smuggler who has since gone legit, left town, and started a family. This happening lures him back into the business for one more job to save the kid and pay off the bad guy. Stop me if you have heard this before, it is hardly an original plot.

That is it in a nutshell. Kid does something stupid, bad guy threatens family, hero steps up to save the day, secrets are revealed, things happen, emotional climax, role credits. Easy, simple, no mess.

The simplicity of the movie is admirable, but they take the simplicity and add a few too many elements, thus dampening much of what there is to like about it. It starts off decent enough, but things go awry as soon as the smuggling job comes into play. I mean, it goes smoothly enough, but when the ship reaches their Panamanian destination things start running off the rails. Once you get past the fact they plan to hide their smuggled goods behind a tool rack, they find they are getting screwed over by their contact and have to go see another guy (played Diego Luna), who drags them on an armored car heist and then they get their stuff to head back to the ship, all in the span of about an hour. Yeah, that happens.

The plot elements may get a little crazy, but it is still somewhat watchable. Mark Wahlberg portrays a somewhat interesting character. His best moment being when he let slip that he misses the smuggling life. It is a brief flash and I wish it was explored more. Beckinsale is decent as the damsel in distress (rather different than her Underworld role). Giovani Ribisi is fun, as always, as the tattooed bad guy with the funny voice.

The movie also has an interesting piece of trivia. Contraband is a remake of a 2008 Icelandic film called Reykjavik-Rotterdam and it starred an actor named Baltasar Kormakur, who also happens to be a director. Yes, that's right, he directed Contraband, the remake of a movie he originally starred in!

Mildly Recommended.
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