The “one last crime” genre is about as prevalent in films as teen movies or musicals. They’re all about the same, utterly forgettable, and enjoyable in the moment. That’s the best way to describe director Baltasar Kormakur and Mark Wahlberg’s movie Contraband. The film has enough to keep audiences engaged, but the formulaic plot and scattered acting will make it hard to remember come February.
Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) has left behind a life of smuggling contraband to settle down with his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and two children. When Kate’s brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) gets in trouble with drug lord Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) over some dumped loot, it’s up to Chris to get Andy out of trouble and prevent Briggs from coming after his family.
Audiences should go into Contraband expecting action, light acting, and a short story that could be rife with plotholes. Contraband is a great afternoon movie where you can tune out for a couple hours and leave the theater feeling relaxed. It’ll probably find more audiences on DVD as it is more of a B-movie, but a well-done B-movie in the vein of the upcoming Man on a Ledge. When the team gets to Panama the action is unrelenting with guns, cars blowing up, and arguing en masse. While these scenes are fun, some of the establishing scenes are well-written (for what they are) and allow Wahlberg too really over-act, in a good way, with his tough-talking family man with a heart of gold.
Wahlberg is the soul of this movie and he’s perfected the character of Chris Farraday. Farraday is pretty much every character Wahlberg’s ever played so there’s no diversity but Wahlberg still seems to have fun with these roles. His ability to mix heart with copious amounts of the F-word is an art form and he’s got great comedic timing and connection with Ben Foster who plays his best friend Sebastian. Foster steals the majority of his scenes, continuing to take backseat roles in cheap action films. It’s pretty obvious where his character is going from minute one, as Foster’s persona in past roles really limits him, but he’s still fun no matter what.
The movie is rather stock and cliché from the “one last time” story to the team of nameless men who help Vince pull off the heist. The majority of the heist takes place in Panama with a lot of scenes on a boat. The middle is essentially the characters talking about the heist as the setting limits what happens so it does present a drag in the story arc. When the group gets to Panama there’s a lot of action but again, by returning to the boat the story comes to a grinding halt. When the story isn’t focus on Chris you have the story arc of his wife Kate. Beckinsale has seemingly lost all acting talent because she is a nuisance and a bore. Her character screams and cries for the entire hour and forty-three minutes and lectures Chris about not wanting him to go to prison, yet pleads with him to save her brother? Which one is it? Every time the movie shifts to her you can expect screaming and crying, nothing at all worth the expense of a name actress. Ribisi also enters Dennis Hopper territory with a bizarre and ear-grating accent and enough overacting to choke a horse.
Contraband is a quick thrill that you’ll enjoy in the moment and move on to something new. Its fun to see in a theater with friends but it’s nothing you can’t pick up on DVD in about three months.