Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Kate Beckinsale
Directed by: Baltasar Kormakur (“Inhale”)
Written by: Aaron Guzikowski (debut)
Ah, January – a month known to most critics as a dumping ground for heaps of cinematic trash. After spending the months of November and December pouring money, marketing, and efforts into their Oscar hopefuls, movie studios often reserve January for films they have less confidence in. Even still, occasionally January has had some bright spots, such as “Youth in Revolt” and “Cloverfield” in previous years. In “Contraband,” Mark Wahlberg follows his critically acclaimed film “The Fighter” with a by-the-numbers heist film that struggles to separate itself from other films of the genre.
After leaving the smuggling business to start a family, Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) must get back into the life of crime when his brother-in-law (Caleb Landry Jones) angers Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) by screwing up a drug deal. Farraday leaves his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and kids in the hands of his best friend and right hand man Sebastian (Ben Foster) as he goes to Panama to bring back millions in counterfeit money. However, when the deal goes wrong, Farraday must think outside the box to keep his family safe.
If you’ve seen any movie that Wahlberg has ever done, you’ll know what to expect out of him. While their performances aren’t necessarily bad, both Ribisi and J.K. Simmons both sport almost cartoony accents and voices, with Simmons in particular channeling his inner Foghorn Leghorn. Ribisi has the more successful character of the two, being legitimately strange and unsettling at times, but is too often over the top. Foster continues his run as one of the most frustrating actors in Hollywood. He is immensely talented, versatile, and underrated as shown by his performances in “3:10 To Yuma” and “The Messenger,” but yet continues to make choices to be in second-rate films such as last year’s “The Mechanic,” among others. The one thing that can be said about Foster is that he is always good in his role, no matter what the movie may be. “Contraband” is no exception.
Icelandic filmmaker Baltasar Kormakur’s direction, at times, shows a strong flair for action sequences, but it is also very inconsistent. Specifically, Kormakur makes use of handheld camera shots only in certain scenes of the movie, seemingly when wanting to pump up the dramatic effect. Unfortunately, not only is this distracting technique used in random times throughout the film, it is done with all the dexterity of someone who is trying to figure out how to use the zoom on their new video camera.
Perhaps the greatest downfall of “Contraband” is its predictability. It follows the typical “deal-gone-wrong” blueprint, contains easy to figure out plot twists, and forgoes every opportunity to do something different and unique. Still, it would be hard to argue that “Contraband” isn’t entertaining at times. There are decent shootouts and suspenseful scenes and Wahlberg carries a lot of charisma. There are also some good supporting performances to help it along. However, one could only wish they deviated a little from the norm.