Review: Contraband

Contraband - Mark Wahlberg

Hollywood smuggles another Nordic remake over the border, but the condom carrying the script might have burst somewhere in transit.

Contraband (2012)

Contraband poster - Australia

 DirectorBaltasar Kormákur

Writers(s)Aaron Guzikowski

Runtime: 97 minutes

Starring: Mark WahlbergGiovanni RibisiCaleb Landry JonesBen FosterKate Beckinsale

Distributor: Universal

Country: US

RatingIt’s Your Money (?)

More info

Óskar Jónasson’s Reykjavik-Rotterdam won a slew of prizes at The Icelandic Film and Television Academy, and it marked its star Baltasar Kormákur‘s last appearance on screen before the multi-talented Icelandic actor-director-producer chose to concentrate on his filmmaking career. As the director of the critically acclaimed Jar City, he comes to Hollywood with a fair bit of production cred, recasting his last screen appearance for the English-language remake of Reykjavik-Rotterdam.

Once an infamous smuggler, Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) now works in New Orleans with his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and children. However, when his brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) has to drop his cargo during a run, his unhinged boss Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) forces Chris to get back into the business he abandoned to save not only his brother-in-law, but his threatened family. Getting together a team with the help of his best friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster), it’s off to Panama to pull off one big job to cover everyone’s problems.

This straightforward plunder plot should have been bolstered by the solid cast of performers, if only someone had saw fit to stash a decent screenplay under their shirts in their mad dash for international waters. Contraband is an ungainly mess of a narrative, lurching from one moment to the next in what can only be described as a scattershot approach. Not trusting the central story of smuggling a ton of cash over the border, Aaron Guzikowski’s debut screenplay adds the wholly unnecessary element of the issues arising back home, perhaps only to take advantage of the rich New Orleans setting. The added threat to a member of the family might provide a false sense of immediacy to Farraday’s plight, but it also serves to detract from the complicated process contraband process going on and at worst sees several characters wander off into their own film.

Contraband - Giovanni Ribisi

Wahlberg is a frustrating performer, as for every Boogie Nights or The Departed, there are at least half a dozen like Max Payne and The Happening. Here he gives it all he has, but it is becoming obvious that this is not enough to overcome weak material. Only Giovanni Ribisi, in full-on over-the-top mode, makes any kind of impression and he has to virtually bite the heads off bats to do so. Kate Beckinsale is largely wasted in a support role, and is that really J.K. Simmons as the Captain?

Contraband has enough plot holes to sail a cargo ship through, which could be forgiven if the other elements came together. The gritty look, and cinematographer Barry Ackroyd’s realistic lensing of New Orleans and Panama, add to the atmosphere but this alone does not make up from the empty hole in the hold where the substance should have been.

Smuggled into cinemas on the passport of a decent cast, but soon found to be a hollowed out piñata filled with cheap lacquered souvenirs wearing hats.

Contraband is released in Australia on 23 February 2012 from Universal.