- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
here was a time not too long ago when all Mark Wahlberg wanted was to be taken seriously as an actor; and now that he’s finally earned that respect (racking up two Oscar nominations in the process), there’s no reason why he should still be making movies like “Contraband.” Although the action thriller is a pretty harmless piece of popcorn entertainment that likely earned him a nice paycheck and the opportunity to work with talented actors like Ben Foster, J.K. Simmons and Diego Luna, his fans have come to expect a certain level of quality that “Contraband” fails to deliver. It’s not a terrible movie, but it is an incredibly unmemorable one.
Wahlberg stars as Chris Farraday, a former world-class smuggler who has since gotten out of the game in order to start a home security business and spend more time with his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and kids. But when his juvenile brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) botches a smuggling job for scumbag drug dealer Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) after he's forced to dump the package or risk getting arrested by U.S. Customs, Chris agrees to settle Andy's debt by doing one final job. With the help of his best friend and partner in crime Sebastian (Foster), Chris puts together a crew and heads to Panama on a freight ship to smuggle $15 million in counterfeit money back to the States before Briggs does any more harm.
It’s a ridiculously simple setup, and yet somehow, director Baltasar Kormákur and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski manage to overcomplicate things by making the heist so unnecessarily complex (with several different scores in play) that even Danny Ocean would walk away from the job. You’d think that would make the film more entertaining, or at least more suspenseful, but the story is so predictable that you can see every twist and turn before it happens. There’s hardly a single original idea in the movie, which is pretty ironic considering the film itself is about counterfeiting. Though Kormákur was presumably given the directing gig precisely because he was familiar with the source material (having played Wahlberg’s role in the Icelandic film that it’s based on), he fails to demonstrate what made that movie so special that it needed a Hollywood remake.
The only thing that makes “Contraband” any better than the countless direct-to-DVD movies just like it is the killer ensemble cast, although many of the actors are wasted in two-dimensional roles – particularly Kate Beckinsale and J.K. Simmons as the ship’s suspicious captain. (The closest thing to character depth that he has is a New Orleans accent.) Mark Wahlberg, meanwhile, has played a variation of the cool and collected bad boy so many times that he practically sleepwalks through his scenes. Diego Luna does have a bit of fun as a sociopathic crime lord in the film’s most exciting sequence, and Giovanni Ribisi steals the show playing the creep du jour like only he can, but while the cast makes “Contraband” a lot more watchable, it doesn’t change the fact that it's a banal and uninspired action movie that’s every bit deserving of its January release date.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Universal’s Blu-ray release comes packed with a solid collection of bonus material highlighted by a lively audio commentary with director Baltasar Kormakur and producer Evan Hayes. The studio’s signature U-Contol feature is also included with a picture-in-picture video track featuring behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, while other extras include a better than average making-of featurette titled “Under the Radar,” a stunt featurette, a handful of deleted scenes, and a DVD and digital copy of the movie.