In another era Mark Wahlberg would be the biggest action star of them all. With good looks and physique to match, Wahlberg looks to be the kind of action star that followed the muscled up era of Schwarzenegger and Stallone following Die Hard. But the problem is that he’s never really had a film that really capitalized on it. Shooter was interesting but remarkably flawed and his most noteworthy films are those away from the genre. And unfortunately Contraband doesn’t do anything to buck the trend.
Chris (Wahlberg) is a world class smuggler who has left that world behind him. With a beautiful wife (Kate Beckinsale) and two children to supplement a legitimate lifestyle, he’s lured back in when his brother in law (Caleb Landry Jones) screws up a job. In debt to a bad man (Giovanni Ribisi), Chris is lured back into the world of the smuggler for one last job to pay off his brother in law’s debt. But it’s not without problems and Chris winds up in a much deeper hole from which he started.
The problems begin because the film is a collection of parts from other, better films and not done all that well. Baltasar Kormakur has remade his own film for this, having helmed and starred in Reykjavik-Rotterdam, has adapted his film into English but hasn’t done anything to make it interesting. His original had the same hangup as well; this isn’t a film that’s engaging and intriguing but the original wasn’t either. There are plenty of moments in the film reminiscent from other, better films and it shows in small things like the film’s cinematography and certain moments of score. It’s as if Kormakur studied up on other, more successful films in the genre and has almost directly copied moments from them for this film. They’re competently put together and the film lands in mediocre territory mainly because the characters are paper thin and the acting isn’t good enough to overcome them.
Wahlberg is perfectly acceptable in the film. He doesn’t have much of a character to work with but what he’s lacking in character he makes up for in intensity. We may not know much about Chris the person but Wahlberg brings plenty of intensity to make up for the thinness of the character. There isn’t much to do besides snarl on many occasions but Wahlberg gives us just enough to make us care about Chris. Kate Beckinsale is given less as his wife. It’s shocking how little she’s given with how prominent of an actress she is and it reflects in her performance. It’s acceptable for the genre but is certainly not going to be on her acting reel anytime in the near future.
Giovanni Ribisi is given the only character of note as the chief villain but it’s more of him over-acting in an attempt to make the film interesting as opposed to having an interesting villain to play. Armed with an amusing accent and clothing, it would be easy for him to just mail it in. Ribisi has some fun with it, chewing scenery even when the scene doesn’t demand it. It certainly makes the film more interesting on occasion but it doesn’t make it better.
With any other star, Contraband goes direct to video instead of getting a January release and a chance at finding box office success. Wahlberg is big enough to get a film like this into theatres but not good enough to make it anything but mediocre.
Director: Baltasar Kormakur Notable Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Giovanni Ribisi, Ben Foster, J.K. Simmons, Lukas Haas, Diego Luna, Caleb Landry Jones Writer(s): Aaron Guzikowski, based on Reykjavik-Rotterdam by Arnaldur Indrioason and Oskar Jonasson
Scott Sawitz is an Inside Pulse original. He's also been featured on The Ultimate Fighter.com, Fox Sports.com, Nerdcore Movement.com, CagePotato.com, Inside Fights.com and Film Arcade.net (among others). When Scott isn't writing about film he's making his own. Check out Drunk Justice Productions right here.