Movie Review: Contraband

Mark Wahlberg in 'Contraband'
Mark Wahlberg in 'Contraband' - © Universal Pictures
Reviewed by Ian Forbes, Sobering Conclusion

Did I miss a memo or something? When did casting agents start thinking that Mark Wahlberg was the go-to guy when they needed an intelligent schemer, with an uncanny ability to see 10 steps ahead of everyone else? This is still the underwear model who left the Funky Bunch at the side of some Alabama truck stop, right?

Okay, whatever. I’m done with that now.

So, onto this January dumpage called Contraband. It’s about a world-class smuggler (Wahlberg) who’s given up the game to go legit and enjoy his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and kids. His dumbass brother-in-law screws the pooch (figuratively) and ends up dragging Wahlberg back into the game to save his life (less figuratively). Twists and turns are bound to be scripted, and audiences who don’t pay attention to ridiculously obvious foreshadowing and blatantly apparent camera shots might find themselves thinking some of the closing events are surprising. Anyone else dumb enough to be paying attention will just be waiting for the characters on-screen to follow through with the predictable setups.

One thing most people aren’t aware of is that this is actually a remake of the 2008 Icelandic film, Reykjavik-Rotterdam. It starred Baltasar Kormákur in the lead role. His name is in the credits here again, only he’s moved behind the camera into the director’s chair. I never saw the original but seeing what the actor does with his own film, I’m not all that keen to find out. Putting aside amateurish camerawork, the overuse of extreme close-ups, and an attempt to make shooting out of focus artsy, it’s a shame Kormákur didn’t push the envelope of the story.

To that end, and be forewarned this paragraph is a bit spoilerish, the biggest problem (aside from the general lack of excitement) with Contraband is that there isn’t any tension to the film. There should be plenty of consequences for nearly every character, and yet it felt like every punch gets pulled. This is supposed to be a shady world of ne’er-do-wells, instead it’s like smuggler’s patty cake.

Boiling it all down, if you really, really want to see Marky Mark plan a heist … and feel reasonably entertained … and you want that film to be a remake … try re-watching The Italian Job. It’ll be far cheaper and it’s a better experience. If you’re somehow still curious about Contraband, wait for it to hit the free cable market. It probably won’t take that long and while this is rated R, it’s almost entirely because of language and not because of thrilling action or violence. Adrenaline junkies should seek release elsewhere.


Contraband hits theaters on January 13, 2012 and is rated R for violence, pervasive language and brief drug use.