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Nothing Adds Up in Lackluster Contraband

Nothing Adds Up in Lackluster <i>Contraband</i>

DVD Release Date: April 24, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: January 13, 2012
Rating: R (for violence, pervasive language and brief drug use)
Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
Run Time: 110 min.
Directors: Baltasar Kormákur
Actors: Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Lukas Haas, David O’Hara, Kent Jude Bernard, J.K. Simmons, Caleb Landry Jones

If you’ve seen the trailer for Contraband and have a sneaking suspicion that you’ve already seen a movie just like it, well, it’s because you probably have.

Yes, in the grand tradition of January, the month where all the ho-hum, warmed-over flicks deemed not good enough for a Christmas release often make their way to a theater near you, Contraband is nothing short of lackluster. And for once, it’s not even entirely Mark Wahlberg’s (The Fighter) fault.

While the actor formerly known as “Marky Mark” actually managed to find a full range of facial expressions for his character, it’s the thoroughly unoriginal—and totally implausible—script that’s not exactly doing him any favors. After all, if you’re going with the overdone, just-one-last-job plotline, there better be a pretty compelling reason to do so. And if that’s not possible, an entertaining twist or two might keep the audience entertained anyway.

Unfortunately, neither of these scenarios play out in Contraband. Even with a gritty aesthetic and the requisite shaky camerawork meant to heighten the big action scenes, the story of a super smuggler who’s gone straight but is temporarily forced out of “retirement” to keep his family out of danger, falls flat in a hurry.

True to form, the first couple of scenes establish the now-cozy familial dynamic. Chris (Wahlberg), who’s married to Kate (Kate Beckinsale, Everybody’s Fine) and a father of two young sons, has apparently traded felonies for a house in the ‘burbs and in a zippy twist of irony, a career that involves installing home security systems. But even as Chris and Kate are shown toasting their friends at their wedding, you know it won’t be long before things go seriously awry.

See, while Chris has chosen the proverbial straight-and-narrow, his dim-witted brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones, X-Men: First Class) is still mixed up in a life of crime. And when Andy botches a drug deal worth some major cash, his nefarious boss, Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi, The Rum Diary), decides that Chris is going to help him make things right—or else.

With his family’s well-being now hanging in the balance, naturally it doesn’t take much prodding for Chris to get back in the game. Known as “Houdini” for his ability to expertly conceal just about anything, the job involves a smuggling operation on a transport ship bound for Panama. Now in pursuit of a massive amount of American funny money (don’t ask), let’s just say some people, particularly the boat’s humorously by-the-book captain (G.K. Simmons, Young Adult), aren’t exactly thrilled when Chris boards the ship. Considering that Chris’s own father is currently behind bars for less-than-stellar behavior involving freight boats like the one they’re on, the captain can’t help wondering what Chris is up to.

What happens next is the stuff of mediocre action movies. Cars crash in spectacular fashion. The “plan” is quickly thrown out the window, and something far more outlandish is implemented instead. People, innocent, guilty and otherwise, are shot and killed with little regard for their lives. Questionable loyalties emerge. Anything resembling meaningful dialogue has been exchanged for a surplus of four-letter words that, sadly, even lose their shock value after a while.

Worse yet, the protagonist we’re supposed to be invested in just isn’t enough of a standout for us to care. After all, any modicum of goodwill built up in the film’s first 20 minutes doesn’t mean much if he’s basically willing to compromise it all in a matter of seconds. If anything, all the viewer is really left with after nearly two hours is the idea that “crime does pay,” a lame takeaway in an even lamer movie.


  • Drugs/Alcohol: Alcohol flows freely throughout. Sebastian (Ben Foster) is shown doing a line of cocaine. A character relapses back into alcoholism. Drugs also figure prominently into the storyline.
  • Language/Profanity: A very steady stream of expletives throughout—the “f” word is the most commonly used. God and Jesus’s names are also taken in vain on multiple occasions, plus sh--, da--, he--, bitc-, as-hole, as-.
  • Sex/Nudity: Kissing. A very rude verbal jab involving female genitalia. Sebastian tries to make a move on Chris’s wife but doesn’t get very far.
  • Violence: Several action scenes involving some serious machine gun shootouts. Several innocent police officers are killed throughout. Cars (with people inside) are purposely run into in rather dramatic fashion by other vehicles (major injuries result). Chris gets into several fights, mostly with the lowlife Briggs. Kate and her kids are threatened in a couple of different scenes, but she’s not afraid to throw a punch. Kate suffers a head injury so dramatic that Sebastian assumes she’s dead. She’s eventually wrapped in a plastic bag and thrown in a ditch that’s soon to be covered with concrete.

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blogFor more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.