Friday, May 25, 2012

Review: Contraband

There is no beating around the bush.  Contraband was a disappointment, although you can never really be sure what you are going to get when it comes to Mark Wahlberg.  For every hit like The Fighter, The Departed, and The Perfect Storm, there’s a bunch of misses like The Happening, Max Payne, and Planet of the Apes.  Still, with Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas, and Kate Beckinsale rounding out the cast, it was hard not to feel optimistic - especially given the fact we fans of action movies demand very little from filmmakers.  Fisticuffs, a solid car chase, some semblance of a love interest, and a double cross usually do the trick.  Yet sadly director Baltasar Kormakur fails to deliver a film that entertains.

The premise of the movie is in no way ground breaking.  Wahlberg plays Chris Faraday, a former smuggler turned straight, who is dragged back into the sordid business because of family.  If you are picturing Gone in Sixty Seconds minus the parade of exotic sports cars and Nic Cage's hairline then sadly you are on the right track.

So What Made This Film Not Work?

First and foremost the biggest slice of humble pie has to go to Marky Mark Wahlberg.  To me, Wahlberg is like Channing Tatum.  They are both cut from the same cloth.  They have limited range, an inability to truly emote, have a desire to bring some urban street cred to every role they are in (even when it’s not relevant to the plot), and overt machismo and this combination of qualities makes it extremely difficult for me to take either actor seriously.  Like Tatum in 21 Jump Street, I think Wahlberg is at his best when he is doing comedy as in the highly underrated The Other Guys, which exploited Wahlberg’s mediocre acting skills to set up great punch lines.

A piece of blame pie also has to go Giovanni Ribisi, who since The Rum Diary seems intent on portraying his characters with a very high pitched nasally tone that makes you want to press the mute button.  Ribisi has been in some great movies (Avatar, Lost in Translation) but unless he was directed to portray a generic mundane low-rent drug dealer with a really annoying voice, Ribisi really misses the mark here.  He fails to bring any real menace to the screen except when he is picking on women and children, which makes us wonder why we should care about Wahlberg’s machinations. 

The biggest culprit in the failure of the movie is the set up of the double-cross.  You will see it coming about five minutes after the opening credits and spend the next hour waiting for it to materialize.  For a movie that desperately wants to be a clever heist film the way Ocean’s Eleven is, this is a major indictment and the ultimate failure of the movie.  Because the action sequences are neither big nor impressive and the acting is not top notch, so without that impact of a “big reveal,” the proceedings completely fall flat.

I don’t recommend this film, but I am not going to completely dissuade people from seeing it.  I am sure there is a segment of the population who just wants to watch my fellow Bostonian flex his muscles as I am sure that there is another segment that does not mind watching a blonde Kate Beckinsale.  I really would not suggest you go out of your way to watch it.  Perhaps you can catch it on TNT in about a year when you have nothing better to do.  Under those conditions, it might play like a cheap man’s Italian Job.    Here’s hoping Wahlberg recaptures some of that comedic magic in Ted, his next theatrical release that just got bumped up to June 29th.

Standout Performance: Caleb Landry Jones (X-Men: First Class) turns in a convincing performance as Wahlberg’s screw up brother-in-law.


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