Baltasar Kormakur’s “Contraband” brings together an impressive cast and some thrills for a decent (but ultimately forgettable) action/thriller that is another exercise in the “One Last Job” brand of action movie. There are some well staged, energetic action sequences, like a shootout between cops and bad guys during an armored car robbery in Panama and there are some scenes of intense brutality. However, for all the conundrums that the characters get into, and those few raw moments in the end, everything goes a little too smoothly. The picture wants to be an edgy, dark, true crime thriller at times but at others it plays like a “we do all this illegal stuff but we do it all so cool and casual like” kind of action film.
Now there’s nothing wrong with either of those things but you can’t have it both ways. If the film is going to be a serious gritty crime thriller then it has to stick with that; if it’s going to be a ridiculous, easy going heist action movie then it has to see it through from the beginning to the end.
Mark Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, a retired smuggler of assorted illegal products. He has a wife and two kids and has his own home security business. But in no time he’s dragged back into the game when his wife Kate’s (Kate Beckinsale) brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) is caught during a smuggling job of his own and is forced to dump the contraband in the ocean. This upsets local out of control gangster Tim Brigs (Giovanni Ribisi, doing some kind of weird New Orleans accent) who wants that contraband or at least its $700-grand value. So in order to save his family Chris is forced to go on one last smuggling job.
And so, he and some other guys casually get onto a ship carrying cargo that’s going down to Panama where he’s going to pick up some counterfeit money. While on the ship they casually do a bunch of illegal stuff, drill into walls, steal ship plans, etc., without anyone else noticing. Sure, they run into complications. The ship’s engine fails but they still make it and get the counterfeit money. Yes, they do have to deal with a dangerous Panamanian gangster but it all works out and they’re able to get the loot on board and back to the mainland safely before cops raid the ship.
Mark Wahlberg is good at playing a badass with good intentions. It’s fun to see him beat people up without mercy and be very smart at what he’s doing. And you can tell Ribisi is having a fun time playing a caricature but he’s entertaining nonetheless. Everyone is.
Overall the movie isn’t terrible. It has its moments and it’s never painfully boring but it’s just standard mediocre January movie fare. You could do worse but you could do far better.