‘Contraband’ A Totally Trite Crime Film

 Well, after having seen back-to-back 10s in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and “War Horse” the past two weeks, it was back to reality at the theater this weekend as “Contraband,” a new action thriller starring Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale, opened nationwide. Unfortunately the film is a cut below mediocre, and, in fact, many current TV shows are better than this big-screen snoozer.

The film actually is a remake of a movie from Iceland titled “Reykjavik-Rotterdam,” and interestingly enough Baltasar Kormakur, who was the lead in that movie, is the director of this one. I’m just wondering whether or not the Icelandic version was better than this lackluster film.

Whalberg plays Chris Farraday, who once had the dubious distinction of being the best smuggler in the business. But Chris gave up his life of crime years ago, and now he has a beautiful wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and two sons. Before he decided to settle down, Chris’s exploits as a smuggler were the stuff legends are made of, but now that he has a family, he is perfectly content with living the safe life in New Orleans.

Yes, Chris obviously made a wise decision, but his brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) isn’t as smart as Chris, and he becomes involved with a ruthlessly vicious drug kingpin named Tim Biggs (Giovanni Ribisi). And as someone who works for a scumbag like Tim, poor Andy commits the unpardonable sin of screwing up a big job. Now he is a world of trouble, and he needs to figure out how to smuggle $15 million in counterfeit money out of Panama into the United States so that Tim won’t kill him.

Of course only one person can pull off a massive assignment like this, and Andy throws himself on the mercy of Chris, who feels obligated to help the guy out because he is Kate’s brother. Thus, against his better judgment, Chris puts together a team to help him and heads to Panama in an attempt erase Andy’s debt to Tim.

Predictably, however, things don’t go as smoothly as Chris intended, and he soon finds that he has put the lives of his wife and sons in danger, and he has to figure out a way to get back to them before Tim gets hold of them.

If you are looking for anything original or imaginative in this crime drama that you haven’t seen in other such films of the genre, you can forget it. The movie is riddled with clichés from every heist film you’ve ever seen. How many times have we seen the guy-leaves-his-wife-to-commit-a-crime-only-to-have-the-wife-end-up-in-the-hands-of-the-bad-guys scenario? And that’s exactly what we have here.

Even the action scenes are so hackneyed that they lack any real punch, and the film doesn’t manage to build and sustain any sense of suspense and mystery. It also lacked any particular intensity that is necessary for a good thriller. Never once was I on the edge of my seat, and I actually had to work at staying awake.

The acting in this movie wasn’t anything to brag about either. Wahlberg just seemed to be going through the motions, but at least Beckinsale appeared to be interested in her part. It was Ribisi, however, who turned in the best performance. He made a very creepy villain, and he ratcheted his voice up to such a pitch that it made you want to do something drastic to shut him up. In the film’s production notes, he referred to his character as “the bogeyman” when he described Tim.

“He’s the guy you don’t want knocking on your door at night. He just spent five years in Angola, and he’s your worst nightmare. I feel like Balt (the director) stretches the boundaries of ordinary filmmaking because the film is so steeped in reality. He doesn’t glamorize smuggling; he shows the reality of it.”

With both “War Horse” and “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” playing at the theaters, don’t waste your money on a second-rate action movie like “Contraband,” which earns a final score of five. If Ribisi hadn’t been so good, who knows what its grade would have been? And if you are planning to wait for the DVD of this movie to be released, I wouldn’t pay for it. You might want to consider hiring someone to smuggle it into your house for you.


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