Film review: "Contraband" should have smuggled in a better storyline

January 16, 2012|By BOB GARVER | Special to The Herald-Mail
  • In this film image released by Universal Pictures, Mark Wahlberg, left, and Ben Foster are shown in a scene from "Contraband."
AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Patti Perret

The first few months of the year are traditionally the worst as far as getting decent new movies. Mega-blockbusters usually open in the summer or around the holidays. Lately, the release slates in March and April have been gaining steam as well.

But January and February are still regarded as a dumping ground for lame movies that the studios know would get crushed by the competition in a better season.

Speaking of lame movies that would never survive against real competition, Mark Wahlberg has a new movie out called "Contraband." You can probably guess from the trailer that it got dumped in January because it's a piece of junk, the film itself spends 110 minutes confirming that theory.  

Wahlberg stars as Chris Farraday, an ex-smuggler who's been successfully legit for a few years now. He is currently enjoying a domestic life with his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and his two kids. He still hangs out with a buddy from his smuggling days (Ben Foster), and he looks to be about ready to straighten up soon. Trouble arises when his brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) botches an important run for the malicious Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi). Andy now owes Briggs $700,000, which means that the whole family owes Briggs $700,000. Andy's not too bright, so it's up to Chris to save the day. His old friend has plenty of smuggling work available, so Chris just has to pull one last job.

The job requires that Chris take a job on a boat working for an unpleasant captain (J.K. Simmons). In order for his plan to work, he has to do some minor sabotaging of the boat. The film overestimates how much its viewers understand the mechanical workings of such a boat, especially when it comes to its fuel system. I was completely lost during these scenes. I wish Chris had just made everyone worry about a hole or something. I know holes are bad for boats.

The film tries to build suspense with the smuggling job itself. The problem with doing this is that you know Chris is going to have to make it home because that's where the bad guys are and they need to be dealt with. There is one scary part where he gets on the wrong side of a Panamanian crime boss (Diego Luna), who is too psychotic to make a good criminal, but unpredictable enough to be a threat. But mostly this chunk of the film is just dull trickery that's been done to death in death in the "Ocean's" movies.      

The element that people are going to remember most about "Contraband" is the amount of abuse taken by Kate, the wife. Briggs wants his money, and he doesn't much care that Chris is out of town getting it. He gives her some unforgiveable "warnings". She suffers even more violence at the hands of another villain. I seriously question the logic on the part of the characters (it makes Chris less likely to atone and more likely to get back at them) and I question the logic of having these types of scenes in the film at all. Nobody's questioning the stakes, including disturbing scenes to reestablish them is unnecessary and it takes away from the spirited attitude that the film wants to have.  

All the new releases in January and February are going to be about as worthless as "Contraband." But the season does have an upside and that's the wider expansion of Academy Awards nominees. You'll probably have a chance to see "The Artist" and "The Descendants" in the coming weeks, I suggest you do so. I'm hoping that the films are popular enough to justify articles and then I can write two of my most positive reviews of the year.    

One and a Half Stars out of Five.

"Contraband" is rated R for violence, pervasive language, and some drug use. Its running time is 110 minutes.

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