Rating: 2.5 out of 4
Tagline: What would you hide to protect your family?
Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas and Ben Foster
THE PLAN: When his wannabe gangster brother-in-law gets in too deep with a slimy drug dealer, a reformed criminal must return to the smuggling life he abandoned to pay the young man's debts - and protect the lives of his family.
THE KILL: Baltasar Kormákur's CONTRABAND is entertaining, in spite of itself. Its plot is too complicated, its twists far-fetched in the extreme, and its outcome predictable by a mile. But the film's snappy direction and kinetic energy make it thoroughly watchable, if unexceptional.
Mark Wahlberg is the lead here, playing another version of his patented "street tough who is kinda nice but still ten seconds away from punching you in the face" character. This time he's Chris Farraday, a one-time ace smuggler who has gone clean. Living happily with his hot wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and kids, Chris operates his own home security outfit and, while still hanging out and drinking beers with his old cohorts (Lukas Haas, Ben Foster), finds that he doesn't miss the old life at all.
"Heyyy, this money's faker than Kim Kardashian's ass!"
But he's going to have to learn to love it again when Kate's small-time brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), screws up a drug shipment meant for a local dealer named Tim (Giovanni Ribisi, rocking a strange Southern twang that stings your ears). Andy is no Chris when it comes to smuggling, obviously, and now Tim wants his product back or he's taking it out of the hides of the whole family... So naturally, Chris has to get back into the game to pay back Tim and keep everybody safe.
The broad strokes I've laid there don't nearly begin to cover how complex the entire endeavor becomes, but I'm not about to get into the whole shebang; it's for your benefit. Let it be known, however, that there are multiple tangents involving: a crazed Panamanian drug dealer, a crooked ship captain, a betrayal within Chris' crew, a stolen Jackson Pollack painting, and more shady characters than you can wave a fake bill at. Sometimes the flick plays like a "choose your own adventure" storybook, with Kormákur and screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski randomly agreeing to go in this and then that direction and then maybe over here... you get the idea. Perhaps in an attempt to reflect the chaotic nature of the lives of our "heroes" (who, it should be mentioned, are never really painted as bad guys, or even repentant), the filmmaking team thought it necessary to make their job as frenetic and unpredictable as possible, but it mostly feels like a series of half-baked ideas all thrust together, uncomfortably.
"I... I just saw THE HAPPENING... I want a divorce."
But CONTRABAND comes out a mild success because of this. It has the confidence of a much better movie, so it's not afraid to look ridiculous as it hurtles from one unlikely situation to the next. A heist sequence, with Chris and his pal Danny (Lukas Haas) spontaneously helping out a crazed cartel leader (Diego Luna), comes so completely out of nowhere that it's almost like you're in a different movie suddenly. But I couldn't help but smile; CONTRABAND isn't about to let little things like "logic" get in the way of a fun action scene.
Kormákur shows definite promise in his first Hollywood film, getting good performances from his cast (Ben Foster is a stand-out as Wahlbeg's conflicted colleague) and helming the chase/suspense scenes smoothly. As this film reportedly only cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million, this young director could be a go-to guy for affordable action thrillers. CONTRABAND is a nice showcase for what you can do with a little bit of money and a lot of energy and spunk.
TOP ACTION: The misguided heist of a truck carrying a rare piece of Jackson Pollack art provides the movie with its most intense burst of action and suspense,
TOP DEATH: Believe it or not, there really aren't many fatalities in this one, other than a few bullets-to-the-head.
FEMALE EXPLOITATION: Kate Beckinsale is hot, as usual, although she's playing something of a "proper" character, so no leather catsuits...
HOMOEROTIC MOMENT: Nothing to speak of, other than some quality "bro time".
DRINKING GAME: If you took a shot every time Giovanni Ribisi's accent drove you up the wall, you'd be shitfaced before the halfway point.
TRIVIA: This is a remake of the Icelandic film REYKJAVIK-ROTTERDAM, which stars and was produced by this film's director Baltasar Kormákur