Review: "Contraband"

When I posted my Weekend Movie Guide last week, I wrote that Contraband had three things going for it: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, and a general look of “fun.” I figured the combination of a quality leading action actor, an exceptionally attractive lead actress, and a heist-related, energetic plot would make Contraband a “decent enough” flick. In the end, I guess I can say I was right about Wahlberg. The rest? Not so much.

At one time, Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) was a well-known second generation smuggler who made a hefty living bringing just about anything (except for drugs) into the country through the port of New Orleans.  Farraday got out of the game, however, in order to become a family man and he pulled his best friend and former partner, Sebastian (Ben Foster), out with him. But when Chris’ brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), gets tangled up with Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), a vicious drug dealer, Chris finds himself taking on a major job in order to clear Andy of his debt and keep his family safe. Unfortunately for Chris, things don’t go quite according to plans.

Contraband is a remake of an Icelandic film that actually starred director Baltasar Kormakur. Kormakur has made a name for himself overseas but that potential has yet to manifest itself on these shores. This film is no exception as there are several moments that stand out as respectable action movie sequences which are lost in a sea of bad plot points and slow pacing. Too often Contraband attempts to make itself a “thinking man’s action movie” when it really lacks the narrative or script to be anything more than a throw away popcorn action romp. I think Contrabandwants to be an unofficial sequel to The Italian Job when it would be better off as an over-the-top action flick. The goal of a film like Taken (the ultimate example of how to make a January action movie) is to have a riotous good time in the form of a movie. No one involved with that movie intended it to be a serious piece of cinematic art and therefore, it was easy to suspend reality and enjoy the ride. That’s what we all want from an early-in-the-year movie like this.

But that’s not the case with Contraband. Instead of being able to revel in the ridiculousness of a middle-aged man single handedly bringing an end to the entire population of Serbia or a group of misfits attempting to “fly” a tank, the audience is asked to pay attention to a litany of plot points that just don’t make any sense. At times this movie actually becomes boring as Farraday and his team try to put his plan into action, a plan which, by the way, would require everyone else in the world to be complete morons in order for it to succeed. Ocean’s 11 this is not. For long stretches of runtime, basically nothing happens, stalling and ultimately killing any momentum the film tries to create for itself. And when things actually do pick up, too many of the twists and turns can be seen from a mile away, making all the buildup seem even more tedious. In addition, the cuts back and forth between Farraday and his team out on their mission and Briggs stalking Farraday’s family back home distracts from the overall direction of the film. I applaud Kormakur’s attempts to make Beckinsale’s character more important than the standard “damsel in distress” that often plagues this sort of movie but it doesn’t work and these jumps in the narrative just serve to make Contraband overly long. 
I wouldn’t say this movie is a complete loss. Wahlberg is a favorite of mine and he does an admirable job of providing entertainment here even if he is sleepwalking through his role a bit. And when the action does pick up it is mostly satisfying. I just needed more action, more excitement, and more fun in order to truly enjoy Contraband.