While there’s much to praise and little to deride about Contraband, there are only so many ways to say that the movie holds very few surprises and everything happens in exactly the way one expects it would happen. This smuggling thriller does pretty much everything right, not a heck of a lot wrong, and viewers will be engaged enough to keep from checking their watches every few minutes. It’s a very competently made piece of Hollywood machinery, but it’s also the kind of a movie one would watch with a laptop open or while doing chores because of how little an impression it leaves.
Mark Wahlberg stars in this remake of the 2008 Icelandic entry into the Academy Awards, Reykjavik-Rotterdam. It’s the story of Chris Farraday, a former international smuggler turned home security expert and family man, who’s brought back into his former life of crime (along with his best friend, played by Ben Foster) to help his wife’s younger brother compensate after a botched job for a psychotic thug (Giovanni Ribisi, who’s quickly becoming the go-to guy for playing crazy people). Farraday stows away on a cargo ship going from New Orleans to Panama with intentions of bringing back $15 million in counterfeit American money, while his best friend and his wife (Kate Beckinsale) attempt to stay one step ahead of the increasingly impatient villain back home.
Director Baltazar Kormakur knows the material very well having starred in and produced the original film. He creates a sense of pacing that serves the movie well. His visual acumen fits the action on screen, but none of that really helps the material rise above its modest trappings. Everything happens exactly how one would read it out of the “international heist thriller” playbook with the exception of one moment leading into the third act that definitely surprises. Sadly, as soon as that brief shock wears off, the audience can go right back to guessing everything that’s going to happen about five minutes before it does.
The cast helps to bring the movie a long way and keeps boredom from fully setting in. Wahlberg and Ribisi work well together as the stereotypically opposed enemies given only the most basic amount of motivation possible. Wahlberg simply has to act angry and concerned and Ribisi to come across as crazy for no good reason at all. Fans of Beckinsale will have to wait until the release of the next Underworld sequel next week if they want to see her do anything of substance. She’s simply on hand to be the wife that’s constantly in danger. Diego Luna (as a Panamanian mob boss) and JK Simmons (as the captain of the ship Chris stows away on) don’t have flashy roles, but they bring their typical professional work ethic to them. As with many movies that he’s in, however, Foster steals the show with another terrific performance as the man the audience has every reason to sympathize and suspect in equal parts. Maybe if the film had been built around Foster’s character instead, Contraband would’ve stood out a lot more.