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‘Contraband’ could be thrown overboard

Article Published: Jan. 19, 2012 | Modified: Jan. 19, 2012
‘Contraband’ could be thrown overboard

From left, Mark Wahlberg and Ben Foster star in ‘Contraband.’

Like its namesake, it seems as if “Contraband” was quietly smuggled into theaters.

It came with very little fanfare, almost as if the filmmakers didn’t want anyone to see it.

But after watching it, you can understand why. “Contraband” isn’t inherently bad. It’s just not good.
Awkwardly straddling the line between action thriller, crime drama and buddy heist comedy, it’s serviceable at its best and just plain stupid at its worst.

Plagued by dialogue that could have been written by an eighth-grader, “Contraband” nevertheless goes through the motions with a strange sense of duty and dedication. You can tell those involved were committed to making it, but the ends just don’t justify the means. The film comes across as cheap, despite a high budget, and its A-list cast is limited to laughable dialogue and two-dimensional performances.

Mark Wahlberg (“The Fighter”) plays Chris Farraday, a smuggler extraordinaire who’s since gone legit. When his moron brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones, “X-Men: First Class”), tries to follow in his footsteps and ends up dumping some precious cargo, he’s in the hole $750,000 to sleazebag incarnate Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi, “Avatar”), who won’t hesitate to exact revenge on Andy and his family, including Chris and wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale, “Underworld”).

With the help of his best friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster, “The Messenger”), Chris must smuggle one last shipment – counterfeit U.S. dollars from Panama City – to repay Andy’s debt.

Needless to say, nothing goes quite as planned, which, coincidentally, follows the paint-by-numbers plan of the filmmakers. There are no real surprises here, except for the film’s overt product placement of Schlitz brand beer – “Just the kiss of the hops” – and plenty of it.

The performances are decent, with Foster and Ribisi standing out among the rest, but the cast is stilted by an amateurish screenplay from newcomer Aaron Guzikowski, based on the 2008 Icelandic thriller, “Reykjavik-Rotterdam.”

Not so coincidentally, “Contraband” is directed by Baltasar Kormakur (“101 Reykjavik”), who played Wahlberg’s role in “Reykjavik-Rotterdam.”

To the film’s detriment, Kormakur opts for shaky, handheld-style cinematography, which is too much the norm in today’s action fare. It’s seldom used to good effect in other films, but seems even sloppier in “Contraband,” with characters regularly moving out of focus in lieu of other things, like the perch on which a pelican sits for instance. Seriously.

Had the filmmakers focused on, say, the screenplay instead, “Contraband” could have been worth the trip.

“Contraband,” rated R for violence, pervasive language and brief drug use, is playing at Regal Cinema 7 in Boone. For show times, see page 21 or visit

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