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Entries in Contraband [2012] (1)

Sunday
Jan152012

Contraband (2012)

Just Another Job

Contraband is the definition of disposable entertainment. Two years from now, a family-friendly version will likely pop up on F/X. Save yourself a few bucks now by watching it then. There's really nothing wrong with the movie; I actually liked it quite a bit. But this is just more of Mark Wahlberg demonstrating his ability to star in forgettable pseudo-blockbusters like The Italian Job and Invincible, when he's not statue-grasping or producing Entourage.*

The premise behind director Baltasar Kormakur's remake of the Icelandic thriller, Reykjavik-Rotterdam (in which he starred), is intriguing: most heist movies feature a gang of thieves setting up a final score that will allow them to retire; Contraband's protagonists did that years ago, and now live quiet, anonymous lives in the suburbs. Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) was the best of the best, but is content to run a home-security start-up and raise two sons with his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale). Unfortunately, her younger brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), lands in hot water with some local gangsters and calls on Chris to bail him out.

This involves raising $700,000 in two weeks to pay off a psychotic drug runner named Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), or risk Briggs' gang killing their way through the family until the debt is paid. Chris assembles his old smuggling crew and arranges passage for he and Andy on a boat headed to Panama. His connection there will supply him with millions in counterfeit dollars, which can then be turned around in the states for at least the amount Andy owes to Briggs.

Much of the movie is split between the boat and Kate's home life, which is shaken by a twist that I probably should have seen coming. Early on, it's clear that Contraband is not simply Ocean's Eleven on the Ocean, but a unique Rube Goldberg Machine of a crime drama. Small decisions disrupt plans, which then need to be reconfigured or scrapped altogether, and I love the strange detours the film makes on its way to the end--which is itself much different than what these movies usually have to offer.

Pardon the cryptic synopsis. Despite my belief that there's no reason to see this in theatres, I do think Contraband should be seen. The cast ranges from serviceable (Wahlberg) to revelatory; it's nice to see Beckinsale acting again, rather than whoring for spa money in form-fitting black leather. And Ben Foster blew my mind. I'm so used to seeing him play overtly dangerous weirdos in movies like Alpha Dog and 30 Days of Night that watching him as a reformed hood shakily making his way in legit circles was truly jarring.

I also really appreciate the filmmakers' working-stiff approach to the heist picture. Chris and his gang aren't the suave movers and shakers of the Ocean's films, but they'd give that crew a run for their money in terms of ingenuity and cunning. Their language is also much more colorful, which is another reason I'd wait for TV with this one. I don't have a problem with swearing, but it only takes a few minutes of "the fuckin' guy with the fuckin' thing" to make my ears bleed. Much of screenwriter Aaron Gusikowski's dialogue sounds like it was written by teenagers who've just been dropped off at their first party.**

Contraband has a lot going for it, and is certainly better than its trailer or January release date suggest. But I can't say I'll ever watch it again, or that I'll even remember having seen it six months from now. Just as horror's "torture-porn" sub-genre enjoyed a brief boom a few years back (followed by a prolonged bust), we may now be giving the all-star caper a collective send-off. If Tower Heist was the massive stroke, Contraband is the hand-wringing over whether or not to pull the plug--a tough decision loaded with nostalgia for the good times, but also a necessary last step towards the inevitable.

*In what may be a cosmic nod to Entourage's Johnny Drama character, Wahlberg's older brother, Donnie, appears briefly as a cop.

 **In fairness, Wahlberg makes delicious use of the word "cunt" late in the picture. I haven't enjoyed an unexpected laugh like that in awhile.