Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur
Premise: A former smuggler (Mark Wahlberg) must take one last job in order to settle a family debt.
What Works: Contraband is intended to be a popcorn action thriller aimed at viewers who miss the films Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal were making in the 1990s. That’s exactly the audience that the filmmakers of Contraband are aiming for and when this film plays on late night cable television it will have found its proper venue.
What Doesn’t: Contraband is a quick and cheap action film and it shows in the story and the production. The plot is full of holes, unlikely scenarios, and illogical twists and many of the set pieces appear to have been added to pad the running time of the film to a feature length. Although Contraband starts with a fairly strong premise–that Mark Wahlberg’s character must pay a debt to save his family–the film loses sight of his character’s motivation once the job gets underway. This film has a serious problem with its villain, played by Giovanni Ribisi. For the film to work Ribisi has to be a believable threat to Wahlberg’s character but due to bad writing (or a refusal by star and producer Wahlberg to appear weak on screen), Wahlberg’s character pummel’s the villain into submission early on in the film, which eliminates any credible threat that the character might have posed. It also undermines the whole dramatic thrust of the story; if the protagonist is returning to a criminal life because of the antagonist’s threat of violence, then proving that Wahlberg can simply beat the character up solves the whole problem of the plot. Once Wahlberg’s character goes on his smuggling mission, Ribisi’s character makes unmotivated threats and attacks on Wahlberg’s wife and child. These don’t increase the tension or serve any storytelling purpose because Wahlberg is already doing the character’s bidding and after their initial tussle neither of them comes into any direct conflict. This kind of lapse in motivation, credibility, and logic occurs in other areas of the film such as the chases and pursuits. When the ship docks, the characters have a limited amount of time to make their pick up and return to the boat before it leaves. But the film plays fast and loose with its credibility and characters are told they have minutes to drive distances that would clearly take double the allotted time. When the smugglers find themselves sidetracked the story continues to stretch the clock with action set pieces that aren’t very well shot or edited. At the very least Contraband ought to have some fun action scenes but even here the film comes up lacking. None of the shoot outs and chases have a dramatic build up, nothing really happens in these scenes, and when the action is over there are no consequences for the characters. The action, such as it is, starts and stops for no reason, much like the rest of the plot of this film.
Bottom Line: Contraband is another Mark Wahlberg potboiler action film. It is a less a bad movie than it is just a bland one, the kind of feature that the viewer will forget about by the time he or she leaves the auditorium.
Episode: #373 (January 29, 2012)