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July 2012

Contraband

cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, and Caleb Landry Jones

director: Baltasar Kormákur

109 minutes (15) 2012
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Universal blu-ray region B

RATING: 6/10
review by Christopher Geary

Contraband

A US remake of Icelandic thriller Reykjavik-Rotterdam (2008), this is directed by the star and producer of that earlier movie. Contraband is very much a basic Hollywood product. It's a standard crime drama with a blandly heroic lead in reformed smuggler Chris (Mark Wahlberg), who is pressured into pulling off an international crime when his wastrel brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones, noise-maker superhero Banshee in X-Men: First Class) gets into serious debt with slimy crook Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi).

Working aboard a cargo ship travelling between New Orleans and Panama, Chris has to contend with treachery and stupidity, while he maintains his own deceptions that are threatened on all sides by dangerous or psychotic villains much worse than he is, and US customs policing the underworld activity in which Chris demonstrates some considerable expertise. Drug dealing and counterfeit currency are part of the criminal operations here, but the movie's plot twists are largely predictable, and often clearly inspired by the likes of William Friedkin's classic To Live And Die In L.A. (1985), and Michael Mann's excellent Heat (1995).

Being essentially derivative, as both a remake, and a distinctive brand of genre crime movie, Contraband lacks genuine dramatic impact despite a few moderately gripping sequences. The action scenes are well staged and yet curiously unimpressive. It's as if the filmmakers were aiming for a degree of realism but their efforts stifled any creativity and so they have ended up with an action thriller that's only remarkable for its tired ordinariness. This sense of predictability and an average quality means Wahlberg is forced to carry more than his fair share of weight as the driving force of the main narrative. Sadly, as he's proved, time and again, in varied movies like Max Payne, The Lovely Bones, The Happening, We Own The Night, The Departed, The Perfect Storm, and the remakes of The Italian Job and The Planet Of The Apes, Wahlberg is rather unfortunately one of the most colourless, characterless, charmless, and entirely uncharismatic, 'leading men' in Hollywood. Perhaps, in Antoine Fuqua's Shooter, he makes a fist of the stoic loner role-play, but that's a rare case compared to the rest of Wahlberg's acting style, which is guileless, usually witless, and often simply dull.

Probably the most enjoyable aspect of Contraband is not the heroics or the duplicity, but the singularly offbeat joke about modern art. It's a running gag in the latter half of the movie that a stolen Jackson Pollack canvas, cut from its frame and thrown into the back of a van, is repeatedly mistaken - by the cargo ship's captain (J.K. Simmons, The Closer TV series), customs men and federal agents, alike - for a dirty and stained tarpaulin. As it's worth at least "$25 million" on the black market, Chris' possession by accident of this painting ensures that our hero can slip-away from justice into a happy-ever-after retirement with his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and kids.



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