Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Contraband is a typical January release. Which is to say, it's a movie - and that's about it. It meets all the qualifications necessary to be a movie, and does absolutely nothing interesting along the way.

Director: Baltasar Kormakur
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi

In fact, the most interesting thing about this movie is who is behind the camera. Baltasar Kormakur was the star of an Icelandic action film called Reykjavik-Rotterdam back in 2008, and now he's directing Contraband, which is a remake of that film. And...that's about the extent of anything fascinating you'll find in this movie. The film itself is a by-the-numbers thriller about a former smuggler (Wahlberg) and his best friend (Foster) who get called back for "one last job" to save Wahlberg's screw-up brother-in-law from a local drug dealer (Ribisi). Wahlberg's wife (Kate Beckinsale) is threated for leverage, blah blah blah. You've seen this movie before. It's basically Gone in 60 Seconds without the cars. 

Wahlberg hooks up with a team of guys to smuggle millions of dollars in counterfeit money from Panama on a freight ship, and for a while, the movie desperately wants to be like The Italian Job or Ocean's 11. But the main characters' situation is so robbed of significance that it fails on every level. We know Wahlberg is going to make it back to protect his threatened wife, so every tumultuous scenario that happens in Panama is mind-numbingly boring because we already know the outcome. And the secondary guys on his team - including Lukas Haas, whose talent is totally wasted here - are given a piss poor introduction (in one of the most mundane montages I've seen in a while) and aren't fleshed out as real characters, so I didn't care if they lived or died. I barely knew who they were. There's no emotional connection in this film, and even the stuff with the wife back home feels contrived just so we'll root for the hero. 

The setting was another missed opportunity to do something to make the film stand out. Set in a post-Katrina New Orleans, Kormakur occasionally provides us with a few shots of the city, but never turns it into a character the way, for example, Ben Affleck does with Boston in Gone Baby Gone or The Town. Same thing with Panama when the story eventually gets there: it seems as if the filmmakers are trying to evoke Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol (or similar big budget blockbusters) in the way they depict the skyline here - brief helicopter shots that paint the city from the side - but, like the rest of this movie, it's a half-assed effort that ends up meaning nothing.

There was one point in the film where I thought it had a chance to elevate beyond it's mediocrity. A main character nearly dies - something that was shocking, ballsy, and an actual twist that I didn't see coming - but it's immediately revealed that this character is still alive, deflating all the excitement I felt as the film returned to its boring conclusion. If you watch two or three movies a year, you might think Contraband is good. Otherwise, you'll see everything coming as it plays out in the most banal way possible.

For those of you who hated the ending to The Town, this is way worse. Contraband apparently can't be bothered to deal with things like "consequences." It ends exactly the way you think it will, and doesn't care to explain how the main characters get around some pretty major problems that would arise if this movie cared about plot holes. (I'm dancing around the ending to avoid spoilers). Put it this way - "Breaking Bad" devotes a multi-episode story arc to something that isn't even addressed in this film. It's not mentioned here because these people are the most basic of action movie characters, given such minimal characterization that it ultimately doesn't matter what happens to any of them. Contraband? More like Contra-bored. (Sorry. That had to be done.) Until next time...

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