The biggest problem with the new Mark Wahlberg movie “Contraband” is that it can’t decide if it wants to be a gritty crime drama, a rowdy action movie, or a light-hearted heist film.
The result of this indecision is a mediocre movie peppered with decent actors doing the best they can with what little they have to work with.
Marky Mark plays Chris Farraday, a reformed, New Orleans-based smuggler who has left his life of crime behind to start a home-security business. He lives a comfortable suburban life with his two sons and wife Kate, played conveniently enough by Kate Beckinsale, who doesn’t get to do much in this movie aside from getting threatened and make out with Wahlberg.
But just when Chris thinks he’s out, they drag … him … back … in! Kate’s screw-up brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) botches a smuggling run, which leaves him indebted to local hoodlum Tim Briggs (played by a scenery-chewing Giovanni Ribisi).
To save Andy’s life and pay off Briggs, Chris comes out of retirement and sets up one last, big score with his best friend and former partner Sebastian (Ben Foster, who might be the most underrated actor in Hollywood. He’s just a heart-throb away from being the next Ryan Gosling).
So Chris assembles his crew and heads to Panama aboard a cargo ship with the plan of smuggling back millions in counterfeit money under the nose of the ship’s captain (J.K. Simmons, who is so awesome he can make insurance commercials watchable).
Naturally, a whole array of complications arise that Chris is forced to overcome, all with his trusted partner Sebastian back in New Orleans watching over his wife and kids.
What “Contraband” lacks in plausibility and consistency, it makes up for in action as the plot is constantly being thrust forward, leaving little time for any thoughtful reflection — which, trust me, is a good thing.
“Contraband” was directed by Baltasar Kormakur, which I initially thought was a European sports car, but it turns out is an Icelandic actor/director. “Contraband” is actually a remake of an Icelandic film Kormakur starred in called “Reykjavik-Rotterdam,” which I suppose makes him the Icelandic Marky Mark. I wonder if he has a Fuennky Bunnjch? But I digress.
The acting performances are all probably a shade better than this movie deserves. Foster’s understated performance balances out Ribisi’s manic turn, while Wahlberg effectively carries the movie in spite of his constant glower that makes him look like he is perpetually expecting a bar fight to break out.
Kormakur also deserves credit for making sure that his movie, as sloppy as it is, is never dull and for giving the film a solid sense of place by displaying the grimier sights and sounds of New Orleans and Panama City.
Look, “Contraband” is not a very good movie, but it is an entertaining time killer that you’ll probably feel much better about catching on DVD as opposed to paying the big bucks of seeing it in the theater. If that’s not a lukewarm endorsement, I don’t know what is.
“Contraband” is rated R for violence, pervasive language, and brief drug use.