Contraband Review

Mark Wahlberg follows up his performance in The Fighter, one of the better films of 2010, with Contraband; an exhausted action film that’s been done at least 1000 times already. This time Ben Foster is given a little more room to stretch out and Giovanni Ribisi becomes a full-fledged villain, with squeaky voice and all. Contraband wouldn’t be such a disappointing film if director Baltasar Kormákur actually utilized his full cast, instead he goes for the quickest and shallowest action film imaginable. The characters are superficial and the action is mild for an R-rated film. Contraband is all bark and no bite.

After years of living a peaceful life on the straight and narrow, Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) is tossed back into the illegal world of smuggling. His brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) gets in with the wrong group of people and owes tough guy Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) lots of money/drugs. After his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) pleads with him Chris decides that the best thing to do is to pull a quick job in exchange for Andy’s safety. He gathers a crew and boards a boat for Panama while he leaves his friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) behind to look after his kids and wife.

One thing leads to another and Contraband escalates from a quick and painless smuggling job to a heist film and a spider web of lies and distrust. Chris must figure out a way to get Tim what he wants before he gets caught and before Tim harms his family. While doing so he is also forced to question who can really be trusted and how he’s going to be able to pull of this job with very little time and lots of officials lurking around every corner.

Contraband sounds like your basic action/heist film up front with more than enough twists and turns to keep you semi-interested, but it’s all just a cover up for one big risk-less film. It proposes edgy ideas that if followed all the way through would have made for something worth recommending for its balls, but every last idea is dropped as fast as your interest in the film. Nothing is ever fully played out, leaving you with yet another generic action film, but this time involving lots of boats!

Mark Wahlberg channels generic Mark Wahlberg action role number one. He plays it almost too straight-forward, like usual, making most of his bad ass lines come off kind of humorous. When he does intend on being comical the jokes feel like cheap afterthoughts. It’s so painfully hard watching him go from The Fighter to this. Chris is such a basic character that is in dire need of some flavor and Wahlberg doesn’t add a pinch of talent.

Playing another forgettable role is Kate Beckinsale. She plays the worried wife that does nothing but get in the way and put herself and her children in harm’s way. She almost starts to come off as nagging, which would ruin any sympathetic emotions we’re supposed to feel for her as Giovanni Ribisi smashes her face into a glass window.

Speaking of Giovanni Ribisi; what an overdone baddie. He has no problem looking the part with his greasy hair, tattoos and general slimy appearance, but his accent is horrendous. He comes walking into the bar looking all big and bad and then the second he starts to speak you’ll instantly be reminded of Mickey Mouse. His voice is just as bad as nails on a chalkboard. The accent is genuinely distracting and upsetting to hear.

The only real promise comes from Ben Foster, who again tries too hard for such a formulaic character. Sebastian is a recovering alcoholic and dear friend of Chris and his family, but he’s also a crumby person and a liar. I suppose diving into his character anymore might cross into spoiler territory, so I’ll leave it at that. His characters true intentions are revealed early on in the film and they’re fairly obvious for anyone actually paying attention.

Contraband isn’t even a good mindless action film. It’s tame in the blood department, only showing a few bullet wounds here and there. The action only takes up maybe 15% of the film, leaving the rest of the film plenty of room to shed some more light on many of its characters, but director Baltasar Kormákur only seems to be interested in randomly inserting curse words every 3 minutes. A few of them come off as authentic, but the rest just feel like pointless attempts to cover-up what little story is actually being told.

It’s very much a rinse and repeat film. It starts out with Chris figuring out how to pay off Andy’s debt and then it cuts to Chris actually doing said plan. It then tosses a fork in the road, in which Chris must figure out a way around this obstacle. Once Chris thinks he’s in the clear another problem arises and the film loops 2 more times until reaching a predictably bad ending.

The only good thing in the film is Ben Foster because he continues to provide great supporting work, but even he feels a little too overdone. I blame the nature of his character and the fact that it’s so damn cookie-cutter basic. The director seems more focused on filming aerial shots of helicopters buzzing by (seriously, there’s like 3 helicopter shots in the opening scene alone) instead of detailing the characters that fill up the screen.

Contraband is a gutless action flick that’s afraid to take any real risks. Every chance it has at setting itself apart from other films is wasted for a cheap alternative and it gets old real fast.

Contraband – 6/10

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