Thursday, January 12, 2012
Here's a tidy little heist/thriller starring Mark Wahlberg doing what he does best: Playing the lone wolf vying against the various forces arrayed against him. Lately Wahlberg's roles have gravitated more toward characters motivated to protect his family, rather than just watching his own back.
But once things get going, it's all about Wahlberg out-muscling and out-thinking his enemies. He specializes in playing the underdog who always seems to gain the upper hand.
"Contraband" is based, very loosely, on an Icelandic film about a smuggler, and is directed by Baltasar Kormákur, who was the star and one of the producers of the earlier movie. I admit I've never heard of the star of a foreign movie directing an American actor in the Hollywood remake. (Imagine Noomi Rapace tapped to helm the American version of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.")
"Contraband" has misplaced aspirations toward something a little deeper, with a fine cast that includes Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, Diego Luna and J.K. Simmons.
It's a rather large and motley crew of characters, good guys and bad guys and bad guys pretending to be good guys. Walberg is Chris Faraday, the lone good guy who plays at being a bad guy.
The former king of smugglers who went straight, Chris is lured/forced into the quintessential One Last Job when his young brother-in-law (Caleb Landry Jones) screws up a shipment, tossing a batch of drugs overboard when his ship is interdicted. The local drug kingpin, Tim Briggs, is played by Ribisi, who has a flair for skeevy malevolence. Briggs makes it clear that unless Chris covers the loss, Faraday's family will be targeted.
Kate Beckinsale has the thankless role as the wife, Kate, whose job is to look pretty and vulnerable, try to talk Chris out of going back to crime, and never do anything logical. After Briggs invades her home, threatens her sons with a gun and drives a truck through her hair salon, you'd think Kate would've learned 9-1-1 on her keypad.
Instead, she turns to Chris' best friend Sebastian for help. A former partner in crime, Sebastian sets up Chris' job but doesn't accompany him on the trip to Panama. He's played by Ben Foster, who also does skeevy pretty well.
Just to show what a good bad guy Chris is, he refuses to smuggle drugs in order to pay back Briggs, opting instead to bring in counterfeit dollar bills. This presents a logistical nightmare, since the amount of funny money needed will practically fill its own storage container. But Chris is the master of subterfuge, nicknamed Houdini for his ability to slip past other criminals and the law.
On most any level of serious consideration, "Contraband" isn't a particularly good movie. Its plot twists telegraph themselves pretty clearly, and every performer other than Wahlberg is only afforded a few scenes to piece together any depth to their characters.
But darn it, I just couldn't help having fun. The action goes all over the place, so that at one point Chris gets recruited into a Panamanian armored car robbery -- the heist within the heist. (Actually, there's yet another layer of theft, which I'll leave the audience to discover.)
J.K. Simmons is a hoot as the truculent ship's captain, who's not so much offended that a known smuggler like Chris is running an operation on his boat as the fact that he wasn't cut in on the scam.
"Contraband" may not be anybody's idea of great filmmaking, but with its scene-stealing cast, a few clever potboiler scenes and another sturdy performance from Wahlberg, it left me pleasantly snookered.
3 stars out off our