Contraband Review

You are Chris Farraday, a remarkably good looking and charismatic man with a chiselled six-pack to match. Women want to sleep with you and so do a lot of the men.

Once upon a time you made a suitably handsome living importing vast quantities of illegal goods into the good ol’ US of A. It wasn’t an orthodox way to earn a crust, but it was effective.

And you were a good smuggler, the best. Everyone knew it. There wasn’t a US port or customs house you couldn’t elegantly sidestep in pursuit of your next pay day.

Although the authorities knew of this, none of them thought to arrest you. Even though you’re a fictional character, you wonder why it’s taken so long for Hollywood to make a film of your life.

Now you’re retired and embarking upon a new business venture; consulting the wealthy on how best to protect their belongings is your road to legitimacy. You afford yourself a smile at the irony. You have family to fend for now, and they must come first. Your father, serving a custodial sentence for some less fruitful smuggling, is proud of you. Everything is as it should be.

That is until your hot wife’s brother gets himself into a bit of bother following a botched coke run on the Gulf of Mexico, which results in most of the aquatic life getting off their collective gills on some of South America’s finest contraband.

The brother in law now has a hefty outstanding debt on a loan secured against his own fully functioning limbs. The debtor is a former associate from your past who, nice guy that he is, starts to threaten your family.

This is not appropriate behaviour, your hot wife is naturally very upset with the whole thing and you definitely won’t be getting any for a while.

There’s only one solution to all of these problems, you’ll have to embark upon one last smuggling jamboree to Panama to pay off the debt.

To label Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur’s Contraband slightly formulaic would be akin to suggesting Bill Clinton was once quite fond of corrupting impressionable interns.

It’s less of a film and more like a vanity project for Mark Wahlberg to demonstrate his considerable repertoire of talents. These range from looking a bit tasty to cutting keys though, mercifully, doesn’t stop mid-film so he can resole a shoe.

Naturally, even this would be a breeze for a man of Farraday’s undoubted calibre.

Cinema cliché dictates that if a central character has left behind a life of crime, they will be inexorably sucked back towards their past. Except this time their motive will be noble and, as such, they’re destined to succeed against whatever overwhelming odds they face.

So as soon as we become aware Farraday’s a retired criminal, it’s obvious a smuggling return is imminent; making the scenes where he debates the morality of revisiting his recidivist ways with his hot wife entirely redundant.

This is also in part due to Contraband’s decidedly odd moral coda. Wahlberg’s character, for fear of appearing in any way unwholesome to American focus groups, steadfastly refuses to traffic drugs. But illegally shifting vast amounts of counterfeit money as he does is apparently fine.

The moral of this imperfect story being that it’s ok to smuggle counterfeit money, because no one gets hurt.

But Contraband’s main flaw is that it tries, and fails, to be something along the lines of The Italian Job. We’re supposed to be swept along with Farraday’s story, rooting for him to win through by the end of the film. And while Wahlberg’s usually an interesting performer, and never less than watchable here, he only really succeeds in putting the smug into smuggling.

The beauty of The Italian Job lies in its script and likable lead. Well, the original at least; not the god awful remake starring that Mark Wahlberg chap.

As for the rest, Kate Beckinsale is hot as the hot wife who’s little more than scenery, while Giovanni Ribisi excels as the twisted and oft frightening villain.

Despite being well made with some enjoyable action sequences and car chases, Contraband is an entirely disposable and forgettable movie.

Still, should his Hollywood career go as pear-shaped as this generic movie, Wahlberg can at least fall back on his key-cutting skills and six pack.

Frank Gardiner

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March 2012
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