When I started doing reviews I was concerned about running into a problem that a lot of unknown, new-timer movie reviewers ran into: I would only review movies I like. If one was to go through the first few reviews I have done, the lowest score I’ve given out has been a 4/5. To try and make myself a bit more credible I have decided to go out and see a movie every weekend, be it one I had an interest in or not. I am proud to say this practice has already provided some fruit and has given me the first bad movie I get to review, that movie being Mark Wahlberg’s Contraband. Contraband is not an offensively terrible movie, even if the trailer blasting an obnoxious Zombie Nation remix might suggest otherwise, but at the same time it doesn’t do anything particularly well either.
Contraband is a heist movie in the most basic form. Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) is an ex-smuggler and when he was working he was the Han-Solo of contraband smuggling. He is out of work and is now ‘clean’ with a security company, wife (Beckinsale), and two kids whose only personality traits are that they are cute and play soccer. Coincidentally his wife’s brother is also a smuggler and not a very good one at that. He gets busted smuggling some coke, because of course it’s coke, into the country. He dumps it and one of the most obnoxious villains of the last few years Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) decides to kill him. One thing leads to another and Farraday has to come out of retirement to do one last job to save his idiot brother-in-law and bland family.
Its an incredibly standard plot that is unwilling to take chances. Of course the heist goes all wrong, but even when things are really hitting the fan the sense of suspense is just absent due to both poor direction of the action scenes and a sense that no matter what happens this story will be resolved in favor of the good guys with a nice bow on top. There is an event towards the end of the movie that seems it will ruin the happy ending for Farraday and to be honest it gives the movie a little bit more suspense, even if the circumstances around it were silly. But then the writers back out of it and give this movie a huge bow on the top of it.Contraband has probably one of the silliest, most contrived endings I’ve seen in a long time. Again it isn’t offensively terrible; it is a best mediocre and at worst silly.
The by-the-numbers plot of the movie is carried by characters who are really pretty terrible. One of the primary purposes of a character in a movie is to change. Ideally they are different people at the end of the movie then they are at the beginning. Not one character changes at the end of this movie and if it has a lesson to teach then the lesson is smuggle because it will get you tons of cash and is real cool. This is all of course the fault of a horrible screenplay filled with cardboard characters and at time cringe-worthy dialogue. Ever wanted to hear Mark Wahlberg exclaim “you got a lot of pussy in here” upon entering a room filled with cats? Me neither, but it happens. Everyone’s characters are bad, from Wahlberg’s annoying and blank Chris to Ben Foster’s Sebastian who starts out the movie half sympathetic but by the end becomes a coke sniffing maniac for little to no reason. I didn’t care Chris’s family at any point in the movie because the wife has no wants or ambitions of her own and their kids are blank slates of what some adult screenwriter apparently thought kids are like when he sat in a dark room writing this movie. I could watch those kids die a thousand times and wouldn’t care, and considering they are one of the primary catalysts for the drama in the movie this is a very bad fact indeed. Contraband also has a couple plot holes in it too, for instance why does his house not have a security system when he owns a security system company? Why does he bring Andy along when he told him to stop smuggling things and the kid is obviously dead weight? I don’t know and neither did the screenwriters.Contraband does have an entertaining ten minutes in the second act, but overall it suffers from a very weak screenplay filled with silly characters, dialogue, and plot-holes.
Wahlberg and Foster do their hardest for their respective characters and to be fair they did a fine job with what they were given. Sure, Wahlberg does say some very bad and stupid things in this movie, but at least he is just playing the Marky-Mark we all want to see. It isn’t the Fighter, but he and foster do fine. Giovanni Ribisi is is pretty terrible though, his voice and mannerisms make for a villain that is both annoying and presents no sense of danger at any time. I also hated Caleb Landry Jones, but I cannot tell if this was the absolute shit character he was playing or his acting. To be honest it was probably a little bit of both. The acting in Contraband isn’t its bad point, there are a couple bad performances but the screenplay it at least partly at fault for this. Marlon Brando couldn’t make these characters compelling.
Baltasar Kormákur’s direction is at best mediocre. Paul Greengrass’s bastard child skay-cam is here and in full force during the few fights that dot the movie’s running time. It is hard to tell what is going on during these fights so I guess its nice to know that in any confrontation the only thing happening is Mark Wahlberg beating ass. Kormákur is also a big fan of extreme close ups. If there is dialogue of any kind happening be ready for someone’s face to take up 95% of the screen. It is passable for some instances where it happens, but at others it borders on hilarity. It is amateurish directing sure, but I have also seen worse.
There are worse movies out there than Contraband. Most of its problems come from an absolutely terrible screenplay, one so bad that I would argue this movie should be worse than it is. Wahlberg and Foster do their best with what they are given, but just cannot salvage their respective flat and silly characters. Kormákur’s direction also doesn’t help with his perplexing closeups and shaky cam shots, but really Paul Thomas Anderson couldn’t save this script. I started going to a random midnight movie every weekend so that I could review some bad movies to give my good reviews some more weight and in a way I am glad I saw Contraband first. If you were to see any heist movie in your life you could do a whole lot worse than Contraband but you could also do much better.