Contraband movie poster
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Contraband movie poster

Contraband Movie Review

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If there's one thing Marky Mark is good at these days, it's being a badass. Whether playing an up-and-coming boxer or a military sniper, the former rapper knows how to throw a punch and look all-menacingly like. Even when his movies aren't very good, you know you're going to get an energetic, badass performance from the guy*. Takes Contraband, his latest movie. It's routine and unremarkable, but Mark Wahlberg does what he does best: play a badass, and that's enough.

In Contraband, Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, a reformed smuggler who has settled down with a beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale, looking all beautiful-like) and kids. His idiot brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) ... not so much. After a drug run goes bad, Andy finds himself deep in a hole with drug dealer Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), forcing Farraday out of retirement to save his sorry ass. Farraday sets up a job to smuggle in millions of dollars worth of counterfeit money from Panama, but because this is a movie things quickly spiral out of control.

For a generically titled action-thriller released in January, Contraband is a perfectly fine way to spend two hours when other options including walking through slush-filled streets and freezing to death. It's entertaining and fast-paced, a fun thrill ride while it lasts.

The movie suffers from a variety of small problems, however, none that aren't common to the genre or even disastrous in their own right, but cumulatively keep it from being nothing more than a generic and ultimately forgettable action flick.

The plot is predictable and simultaneously convoluted, filled with obvious clich├ęs and less-than-surprising twists. The identity of the real bad guy is painfully clear early on, and the "revelation" that ensues late in the movie is one that has been done so many times, and better, in other movies. For a movie that is built around an intelligent criminal like Farraday, the story seems to be filled with a lot of coincidences stacked back to back, which push the limits of believability. The biggest action sequence is an one-sided gun battle with Panama police that has nothing to do with the rest of the story, and conveniently the lead characters are the only ones to escape unharmed. The situation is set up by an idiotic decision by the idiot Andy, whose lack of intelligence is so inexplicably outrageous that you want Wahlberg to beat the crap out of him - even though they are technically on the same side.

Contraband cracks significantly in the third act, where director Baltasar Kormakur focuses on all the wrong things. For as generic as this movie is, it really should have ended with an explosive - or even routine - action scene. Throughout the film Wahlberg threatens those around him that if they mess with his family, he will take them down; but just when you expect him to go really badass and reap vengeance, he throws a few punches and lets his adversary walk. Furthermore, Ribisi's character - who is legitimately wicked - gets off even easier, his gang duped into custody in a comical but hardly satisfying way. The climatic suspense derives from (SPOILER) an attempt to save his wife from being buried alive in cement, which is hardly clever, exciting or suspenseful (of course he's going to save her!). Instead, Kormakur should have ended the movie with a bang. A car chase. A fistfight. A battle of wits. Anything but a race to turn off a cement truck.

Contraband's shortcomings seal the movie's fate, ensuring that in a year's time it will be forgotten. Still, for what it is, a routine, January-released action-thriller with a title so boring I fell asleep while writing this review every time the word "contraband" was typed, Contraband is entertaining. It's fast-paced. And Wahlberg, in his first movie since 2010's The Fighter, is the badass that he is.

*It should be noted that in The Happening and The Lovely Bones, two movies where Mark Wahlberg was at his very worst, his characters were not anywhere close to being of the badass variety. Hence, the thesis holds.

Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.

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