There’s a reason January is considered a dumping ground for movies to be released in, it’s the time of year that lies in between blockbuster seasons. The studios know the movies that they purposely drop during this bitter month of cold weather and unimportant value aren’t very good to begin with. At best, a surprise hit may pull through and earn either it’s money back from production or generate a little profit to unfortunately warrant a sequel.
Contraband is exactly the type of moderately average action picture that borders on being intolerable by the time the end arrives. It contains a couple big stars, good supporting faces and enough energy to last one weekend before its expiry date starts to show and the next sub-par lump of coal comes off the assembly line.
Even at his most restrained and lethargic, Mark Wahlberg still has a strong presence that can drive a by-the-numbers crime flick like Contraband. He does well at suppressing his emotions and being soft-spoken, which is how the film begins, with Wahlberg being a retired smuggler who has settled down with a family he loves and cares for.
His past is only hinted at briefly before his brother in-law gets in over his head with a group of criminals and the only way to save him is doing what he formerly did best. This leads to a line uttered in almost every crime movie with redemption as the sole means of growth for the main character: “One last job…I promise.” Even Kate Beckinsale rolls her eyes when she hears Wahlberg deliver such unfortunate reassurance in the world of drug smuggling and desperate hoods.
As unoriginal as the script is, Contraband is skillfully made for what it wants to accomplish. The style of the film is extremely gritty with an emphasis on making the criminals appear totally ruthless and almost barbarian-like. The action scenes are staged correctly when trying to follow a gun fight with multiple people shooting all over the place.
Yet as slick as the mayhem can be, Contraband‘s intelligence meter is constantly sinking. What starts off as a logical idea to smuggle money unravels into a series of heists and planning that goes haywire too quickly. The climax ends effectively well with an inventive set-up conjured up by Wahlberg, but everything leading up to it has enough leaky plot points to drown any notion of comprehension.
The cast is full of talented people but most are wasted with roles written without any deal of importance beside the basic label given to them. Wahlberg is at his manliest once his family is threatened and Beckinsale is the worried wife who turns into a damsel in distress.
Giovanni Ribisi as the drug kingpin villain is menacing only until he begins to speak. His croaking Southern accent is stopped inches short of being painfully unbearable is it wasn’t for Ribisi being capable of acting proficiently as a bad guy. Ben Foster is underutilized as Wahlberg’s best friend and J.K. Simmons and Diego Luna pop up in cameos that barely make an impact.
Contraband works to a degree as an action film that is functional enough to enjoy. However, the pace often drags and the ludicrous moments that take over control midway through destroy any tension built up in the gritty earlier act. None of the cast can do anything to elevate the material beyond what it is: a January movie from top to bottom.