Thursday, April 26, 2012

DVD Review: Contraband

Contraband ** ½
Directed by: Baltasar Kormákur.
Written by: Aaron Guzikowski based on the screenplay by Arnaldur Indriðason and Óskar Jónasson.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg (Chris Farraday), Kate Beckinsale (Kate Farraday), Ben Foster (Sebastian Abney), Giovanni Ribisi (Tim Briggs), Lukas Haas (Danny Raymer), Kent Jude Bernard (Tommy Raymer), William Lucking (Bud Farraday), J.K. Simmons (Captain Camp), Lucky Johnson (Tarik), Diego Luna (Gonzalo).

You have to kind of admire a film like Contraband that throws everything and the kitchen sink at the audience. Whenever you think you know where the movie is going, it veers off into a different direction, adds another villain, another action sequence, another bloody mess. It also casts two of the great over actors currently working – Ben Foster and Giovanni Ribisi – in supporting roles. If only the two leads – Mark Wahlberg and Kate Beckinsale – were the least bit interesting the movie may have been better.
Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) was once one of the best smugglers in the world – but he has given that all up for the quiet life – wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and two sons. He runs his own security system business now, and he just wants to be left alone. But his idiot brother in law gets himself into some trouble – he was supposed to smuggle in some cocaine for Tim Briggs (Ribisi), a mean ex-con who demands the money he would have made selling that coke – and if the brother in law doesn’t pay, he’ll come looking to Chris for the money. So, to protect his family he decides to pull, say it with me now, one last job.

I liked much of Contraband. As I said, just when you get comfortable following one plot twist, the movie adds another one. You think that Ribisi is the only psychopath in the mix, and then one by one, the movie introduces some other ones to spice things up. Just when you think that all Chris is going to get involved in is a smuggling operation on a commercial shipping boat, the filmmakers throw in a violent armored car robbery gone wrong in the streets of Panama. And after that settles down, and you think you have the smuggling operation figured out, the movie twists again, and you realize that you’re wrong.
The problem with Contraband is perhaps that it twists too much. The movie spends so much time trying to pull the rug out from underneath you, and play with your expectations, that it never really settles down and tells an interesting story – or develops any of its characters. Yes, Ribisi is wonderfully twisted and evil, and Ben Foster (as Wahlberg’s best friend), does a good job matching him facial twitch for facial twitch, and Diego Luna has a lot of fun as someone perhaps even more insane then either of those two. But other than joy in watching these three performances, there really isn’t much to Contraband. Wahlberg is good as an action hero, but he is easily the least interesting character in the movie. Beckinsale is fine, I suppose, but she is just doing what every wife in every movie does – sound concerned on the phone, and then getting herself into trouble. As well a movie can only twist so many times before you stop trusting it completely.

I’m not saying Contraband is a bad movie – far from it. It will keep you entertained for its two hour running time. But I was never really involved in the movie – never really cared what happened from one scene to the next. Ribisi and Foster both certainly have the potential to become the next Christopher Walken – that actor who constantly plays the psychopath, but who you cannot help but love. But for me Contraband simply isn’t quite good enough.

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