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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Contraband | Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Caleb Landry Jones, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster | Review

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Contraband

The last time we saw Mark Wahlberg on the big screen was when he starred as The Fighter. He turned in a stellar performance as the titled character, but was ignored when awards rolled around, although his co-star Christian Bale walked away with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.  Wahlberg's latest film, Contraband, takes place in the world of international smuggling, and instead of fighting in the ring Wahlberg's character finds himself fighting to save the the life of his family.

Contraband is based on the 2008 Icelandic drama Reykjavik-Rotterdam starring Baltasar Kormakur, who now sits in the director's chair for the American remake. If anything, he keeps the action moving in this familiar, but suspenseful caper movie that forces you to leave your brains at home and instead center on the roller coaster thrill ride.

Set in New Orleans and Panama, Mark Wahlberg once again gears up in action hero mode, a role that  suits him well.  Here he plays likeable, easy going hunk, Chris Farraday, a reformed ex con who left the world of crime and went legit, starting a family with his beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale) and building a business installing security alarm systems. Settled into and happy living a straight life, Chris  is pulled back in to the criminal world, when his idiotic brother in law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), who has been smuggling drugs into the U.S. via his home port, is forced to dump a load overboard and finds himself in debt to his ruthless crime boss Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi, in slimy and menacing, bad guy mode) for $700,000. When Briggs threatens to go after his family if he can't come up with the money, Chris, a legendary smuggler, steps in to take care of business and smooth things out. That means getting a job aboard a freight ship headed for Panama, where, with the help of several crew members he has recruited, he plans on committing an elaborate heist of millions in counterfeit bills as his best friend and partner Sebastian (Ben Foster) who has a penchant for lollipops, promises to look after his family while he is away.

Complications and glitches arise requiring Chris and his crew to stall the ship from entering and then leaving the dock. Time is of the essence and it is imperative for Chris to get back with the loot before his wife and kids are targeted.

Audiences will certainly have to suspend disbelief and logic to accept the gaping plot holes, implausible events, close calls with police, and death defying escapes that occur in rapid order. As expected, there are some twists and turns. The most clever involves a stolen Jackson Pollock painting worth millions that is mistaken for trash by clueless thieves and customs officials.

The supporting cast includes Diego Luna (Y Tu Mamá También)  as Gonzalo, a treacherous Panamanian drug lord Chris is forced to deal with, and J.K. Simmons as the ship's captain, who suspects that Chris is up to something and, therefore, has his eyes on him. A few characters are not what they appear to be and, as double crossing betrayers with their own agenda, eventually show their true colors.

As for the look of the film, I found Barry Akroyd's gritty and often twitchy cinematography to be distracting.

Released in January when the studios pump out forgettable drivel to fill the theatres and are more focused on end of the year award hopefuls, Contraband doesn't offer anything original that we have haven't seen before.  That said, Contraband isn't a bore. It is what it is; a serviceable, mediocre piece of escapist fare for the winter doldrums, but nothing more.

 

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