From a world where incompetence and unoriginality replace action and thrills comes Contraband, the latest entry in the "last job" heist genre.
Bare bone characters populate this skeleton of a plot. You know the story: Anti-hero protagonist is no longer in “the business” when extenuating circumstances rope him back in for one last gig. Things go wrong, the plot twists and major action ensues.
Mark Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, a former smuggler who now lives comfortably as a husband, father of two and owner of a home security company. When his brother-in-law fouls up a smuggling job, Chris’ family is threatened by smuggler Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), who never received his coke and tasks Chris with making good on the blown deal … or else.
His immediate reaction? After sending threats right back at Briggs (to further piss him off, for good measure), Chris formulates a plan to execute a heist in Panama, which includes leaving his family and trusting that the ratty, gun-wielding Briggs won’t hurt a soul until he gets back. Chris leaves his friend and former smuggle buddy Sebastian (Ben Foster, playing the exact same role he always does) to keep watch while he’s away. Those familiar with Foster’s other work will immediately recognize this as a bad idea, but Chris’ wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) is easily convinced that the plan is solid.
Beckinsale is playing a character that’s an odd mix of class and trashiness — sort of a toned down (and wildly unrealistic) version of the character Blake Lively played in The Town. It's difficult to determine what the filmmakers were going for with Kate, and Beckinsale (a British darling capable of giving a respectable performance) seems lost. And seeing her gratuitously thrown around by shady male characters is particularly unsettling.
Chris assembles a squad of fellow smugglers whose names and purposes I couldn’t recite if held captive and forced to watch Contraband again. They head for Panama via smuggling boat, but all plans go to hell once they arrive. It would be only a slight overstatement to say Murphy’s law was in full effect. In the span of approximately 15 minutes, Chris exchanges cash for counterfeit bills, is forced to steal a prized painting and loses track of his brother-in-law altogether. (He’s off pursuing a heist of his own.) The level of incompetence shown by the good guys and bad guys alike is face-palming.
Not that the film is entirely lacking excitement, but no attention to detail with the story and little effort put forth establishing characters makes for a fairly thrill-less ride. Director Baltasar Kormákur, who starred in Icelandic original, includes action sequences that have no purpose or effect on the story’s outcome. It’s as if he realized there wasn’t much to Conraband, and decided to toss in some meaningless drama to spice things up.
To the film’s credit, the dialogue is snappy — which isn’t often the case in action flicks — and there are a few tough guy jokes that go over well amidst the horseplay. Marky Mark can deliver a one liner and a punch with conviction; he's been doing it for years. He's a talented guy, but neither he nor the underutilized Ribisi can save this lost cause.
By film's end, Contraband is more a tutorial on how to beat up women than an exciting action movie, with two indistinguishable sides fighting for a cause that’s lost in the crossfire. So while Contraband might appeal to the Taliban, you’ll probably find it an offensive mess.