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Contraband **1/2


Is it worth $10? Yes

Have you ever had the experience where one small thing takes you out of an otherwise decent movie?

“Contraband” is an average action pic with plausible twists and a fun story. But the villain, played by Giovanni Ribisi, speaks in a nasally, weak voice that belies his tattoos and gun-toting tough guy demeanor. If we’re to take him seriously as a man who’ll kill the hero’s family, he shouldn’t talk like a science geek. This doesn’t ruin the movie because there are many other things going on (perhaps too many), but it does hinder the credibility of the characters. Oddly enough, integrity is everything in this smuggling movie.

As happens to many reluctant protagonists, Chris (Mark Wahlberg) has left the lucrative and dangerous life of international smuggling behind him. But when his dumbass brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) botches a job and owes drug dealer Tim Briggs (Ribisi) $700,000, it’s up to Chris to settle the score. Chris’ wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) hates that he has to take a cargo boat to Panama to retrieve counterfeit bills, but Chris’ friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) stays behind to protect her. Naturally everything that can go wrong does go wrong in Panama, and to director Baltasar Kormakur’s credit it’s entertaining to see Chris maneuver through his ordeal.


Kormakur is popular in his homeland of Iceland, but this is likely the first time American audiences will see his work. His style is similar to that of Tony Scott (“Man On Fire,” “Déjà vu”): Many grainy, coarse images with washed out colors, quick edits, jarring action and swift camera movements, all of which help maintain an up-tempo pace that offers a very visceral viewing experience. That said, the story probably has a few too many tangents for its own good, but Kormakur nicely brings everything together in the end.



Wahlberg is not a great actor and likely never will be, but he is a good action star and does well here. Ribisi is a weak villain, which is never good when a story requires a heavy antagonist, but Foster is strong as Chris’ partner and the supporting cast (led by J.K. Simmons) is stellar.

And then there’s Beckinsale, who’s perfectly fine but leaves us wondering why she’d be interested in this role in the first place. There’s literally nothing for her to do besides scream and play the concerned mother, which is a waste of her beauty, time and talent. After headlining the “Underworld” movies and more than holding her own in comedy (“Click”) and drama (“Snow Angels”) her career is supposed to be past the point of menial supporting roles that should go to hottie up-and-comers. Come on Kate, you have to be more daring than this.

“Contraband” was right to focus on family values and action, but it doesn’t discuss enough of how smuggling is done, which no doubt would be fascinating to law-abiding citizens. After all, that’s its real appeal – we’ve seen this storyline before and have a pretty good idea how it’s going to play out. Give us more of what’s new to us and we’d be more entertained. As is the movie is good but underwhelming, a entertaining excursion but not one you’ll remember two days later. Sometimes that’s just what you need.

Did you know?
“Contraband” is a remake of the 2008 Icelandic thriller "Reykjavík-Rotterdam," which won five Edda Awards (the Icelandic Oscars) including Director of the Year and Screenplay of the Year.

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