** (out of 5)
January 13, 2012
Mark Wahlberg as CHRIS FARRADAY
Kate Beckinsale as KATE FARRADAY
Ben Foster as SEBASTIAN ABNEY
Giovanni Ribisi as TIM BRIGGS
Lukas Haas as DANNY RAYMER
Diego Luna as GONZALO
J.K. Simmons as CAPTAIN CAMP
Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Last week, the movie audiences flocked to what is sure to be one of the worst films of the year: “The Devil Inside.” This lemming-like behavior secured more crappy found footage movies to be made in the future and galvanized its upstart (and awful) director as a new Hollywood powerhouse. If this same audience didn’t get its taste for bad early-January movies sated last week, there’s more to come this week with “Contraband.”
Though, let me be fair. “Contraband” is a far more competent and entertaining movie than “The Devil Inside.” Of course, the Kim Kardashian sex tape was also more competent and entertaining, and that thing was terrible. So while “Contraband” isn’t a good movie, it’s not the worst. In fact, its biggest sin is that its just forgettable. Trust me… by the time Valentine’s Day rolls around, you’ll forget about Marky Mark and the Smugglin’ Bunch.
The story (if you care to remember) follows Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg), an ex-smuggler who has gone legit and started to provide for his family in a respectable manner. However, his brother-in-law is still smuggling and ends up in hot water when he is forced to dump a package of cocaine into the ocean. This sends the drug dealers waiting for their coke into a tizzy, so they saddle his family with the debt.
Yeah, I know… this sounds eerily similar to Han Solo’s backstory in “Star Wars,” explaining why he’s on the run from Jabba the Hutt. Remember the famous line, “Even I get boarded sometimes” before Solo blows poor Greedo away.
Sadly, “Contraband” is not nearly as interesting as Han Solo’s story in the “Star Wars” saga. In this movie, Farraday spends a chunk of the film on a freighter, planning his heist. Meanwhile, back home, Chris’s wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) is trying to keep her kids safe from the insane drug dealer (Giovanni Ribisi) who is trying to get his coke money back. Farraday’s best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) is also along for the ride trying to smooth things out.
All the elements are here to make a somewhat decent action movie. There’s a decent A-list (or at least close to it) cast. There’s enough of a budget for international locations, plenty of bullets and a handful of explosions. There’s some gritty cinematography to make it rise above the level of production of a 90s Showtime action film.
But these things only raise the quality of “Contraband” slightly above the level of a direct-to-video action movie. Like last year’s “Killer Elite,” there’s nothing special in the plot. We’ve seen a lot of the story points before, and things aren’t done with any spark to make them less derivative. Similarly, the plot twists are painfully predictable, and there’s nothing about the characters to make me care for them.
In particular, as fetching as Kate Beckinsale is, her characters is incompetent and weak. She does nothing to protect her family at home while Marky Mark is floating around in Panamanian waters. This is one of the many places where the writing just seems run down.
There’s also a point in the film where it feels like “Contraband” is going for a punchy heist film, like something in the “Oceans” series. However, there just isn’t enough creativity, cleverness or sense of fun to make any of that happen.
“Contraband,” like last fall’s “Colombiana,” should have been a lot better. But really, what were you expecting?