A watchable B-movie with enough thrills but enough flaws as well.
‘Contraband’ is the kind of movie that’s an enjoyable affair normally, but looking at the cast involved one expects something more than that. It’s a watchable urban thriller with some great actors involved, but lacks originality and is too long for its own good which definitely takes away from some of the fun.
Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) has worked past a life of crime into a legitimate business after having a wife (Kate Beckinsale). But after his brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), messes up a drug deal job, he finds ruthless drug dealer Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) threatening him for his life and family until he pays the debt back. Chris decides to assemble a team and go back to doing what he does best – running contraband of drugs one last time in order to pay off Andy’s best and protect his family but he realizes that the doing this on a cargo ship to Panama is a road filled with obstacles and danger.
The film is a remake of a 2010 film from Iceland, which is strange because the plot is straight up Hollywood. It’s a mix of ‘Gone in 60 Seconds’ with Mark Wahlberg’s own ‘The Italian Job’ and some of ‘Ocean’s 11’ in there with an added urban touch. And here’s the biggest problem with the film – it never feels fresh enough and suffers from that because almost every single twist is either predictable because you’ve seen plots go that way many times before or have been already spoiled in the trailer. The truly unpredictable twists and turns happen towards the end of the movie but in reality, they actually end up hurting the film by convoluting the plot and coming off as entirely unnecessary considering the film that preceded them. There are double crosses and reveals that come out of the blue as if just for the sake of giving the story more meat but they never feel organic and you stop caring after a while. The plot is where the film is hurt the most clearly.
But if you adjust your expectations, ‘Contraband’ delivers as a watchable B-movie with enough thrills to keep you entertained especially if you’re a Mark Wahlberg fan. There’s an entire heist storyline that takes up the middle of the movie and stands as the best part of the film by far. The heist is not original in the least bit, but there’s enough suspense and obstacles that keep you on the edge of your seat in a few scenes. The pacing is much slower than most peoples of this kind and the film constantly cuts away to scenes outside the heist itself which sort of kills the momentum at times, but the heist sequences are strong enough to hook you. Watching Wahlberg and gang trying to hide stashes of illegal money in a cargo ship and how the captain is a constant threat is fun to watch and thankfully makes the bulk of the film. There’s not much action to speak of aside from a shootout armed robbery sequence which is actually pretty well executed as well. But the film never establishes itself as a full on heist movie and dabbles with being a crime drama at the same time and the result isn’t as consistent with both those combined.
Mark Wahlberg has already proved that he’s a great actor in the right project but somehow ‘Contraband’ is the kind of movie he’s past already. It’s an extremely safe role and a safer movie and all the actor does is sleepwalk through it since it’s something he’s done time and time again. He’s definitely effective as the lead character and carries the film through, but one would expect him to take on more challenging roles than this. Giovanni Ribsi plays a very threatening villain and gives a strong performance as a ruthless mob boss who can do anything to get his money. Ben Foster is an underrated actor and though he doesn’t have that big of a role through the bulk of the movie, he shines in the third act and gives a intense performance. Kate Beckinsale has the perfunctory ‘wife in peril’ role here but does the job well and has some emotional scenes to boot.
‘Contraband’ is a watchable B-movie which is not unlike what Mark Wahlberg has done many times before, but fans of those urban thrillers will enjoy this one as well. It works from a generic plot and has quite a few flaws which never let it reach greatness or even be a memorable heist film, but something tells me that was never the intention here in the first place.