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'Contraband' Movie Review

About.com Rating 2 Star Rating


Mark Wahlberg in 'Contraband'

Mark Wahlberg in 'Contraband'

© Universal Pictures
Sometimes you watch a movie and you wonder if the writer(s) just assumed everyone watching was alternating between paying complete attention, no attention at all, and then complete attention again. And that the audience would be alternating between the two at just the right time during the movie. Oh, and that the most improbable plot twists aren't going to alienate the audience, and that telegraphing the absolutely predictable twists won't destroy any chance of an audience enjoying their film. I thought about all that as I sat through 2012's first 'action thriller,' Contraband, starring Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster, Lukas Haas, and J.K. Simmons.

Contraband's not so much a thriller as it a 'frustrater' (and yes, I'm fully aware that's not a word but you get my meaning). Could have, would have, should have...Contraband sits on a fun premise and smothers it with sloppy directing and a script that needed some serious tweaking.

Hopes are never high for January releases as this is that unfortunate time of year when studios play the dumping game, tossing out their lesser products in hopes moviegoers will be so hard up due to the lack of quality choices that they'll fork over money to see a film that they'd normally avoid. Contraband is after the audience that's already seen Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol and has to have its action fix now, and has nowhere else to turn. And while Wahlberg knows his way around the genre, his ability to scowl and look all tough and intimidating is wasted in Contraband.

The plot holes in Contraband are big enough to slide a cargo ship through. Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) is forced back into smuggling via a cargo ship (the one the plot can fit through) because his idiot brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), owes big bucks to a dealer (Giovanni Ribisi) after dumping a load of drugs in the ocean. Chris' wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) stays home with their two young sons while Chris heads out to Panama to get some counterfeit bills he can sell on the black market to pay off his bro-in-law's debt. Also staying home is Chris' BFF and partner in crime, Sebastian (Ben Foster), who you just know right away is up to no good. Will Chris make it safely out of Panama? Will he be able to outwit all the bad guys and the ship's captain (J.K. Simmons)? And what's with the Rug Doctor? Refer to the opening paragraph for that answer.

There are a few scenes that get your heart pumping, however director Baltasar Kormakur has made the bizarre choice to go with out-of-focus close-ups sprinkled throughout the film - an unnecessarily and headache-inducing annoyance that adds nothing to the film. Couple that bad decision with the ludicrous plot, poor chemistry between Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale, and some over-the-top performances that take the bite out of action sequences that otherwise might have worked, and you've got the answer to why Contraband is hitting theaters in January. Not even Wahlberg taking off his shirt can save this poorly executed thriller from deserving nothing more than a quick trip to the DVD discount bin.

GRADE: C- but really close to a D+

Contraband was directed by Baltasar Kormakur and is rated R by the MPAA for violence, pervasive language and brief drug use.

Contraband is based on the Icelandic film Reykjavik-Rotterdam which starred this version's director, Baltasar Kormakur.

Theatrical Release: January 13, 2012

This review is based on a screening provided by the studio. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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