The nautical heist thriller ‘Contraband’ is a remake of ‘Reykjavik-Rotterdam’, an Icelandic film from 2008 which, admittedly, I've yet to see. Presumably, there must have been something about it that was compelling enough to warrant the effort and expense of an adaptation.
Whatever it was, it didn't survive the no-doubt complicated process of translating it into a proper Mark Wahlberg vehicle.
Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, once a legendary New Orleans smuggler but now happily law-abiding as a home-security contractor. The same, however, cannot be said of his punk brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), who runs illegal shipments for a tattooed hoodlum named Tim Riggs (Giovanni Ribisi).
When Andy makes the unwise decision to dump his valuable narcotics cargo in advance of a Customs raid, earning the dreaded pay-up-or-die ultimatum from his unsavory boss, Chris tries in vain to intervene on his behalf, only to be rudely rebuffed. Which leaves him with only one option to save Andy's skin: One Last Job.
The director of ‘Contraband’, Baltasar Kormakur, actually starred in ‘Reykjavik-Rotterdam’ – a piece of trivia which, unfortunately, proves far more interesting than anything found in his remake.
It seems his familiarity with the material bred banality, if not necessarily contempt. His approach is a kind of Bourne-lite: the shaky-cam is restrained enough to minimize audience headaches, but the ultimate result is stultifying generic.
Essential to any successful Mark Wahlberg film, from ‘Boogie Nights’ to ‘The Fighter’, has been to surround Wahlberg with more accomplished and versatile actors, thereby allowing him to focus on his core competencies of scowling, cursing, and otherwise radiating his unique brand of low-watt charisma.
Kormakur assembled capable-enough performers for ‘Contraband’, only to saddle them with uniformly bland characters.
Having grown accustomed to Kate Beckinsale as the leather-clad heroine of the ‘Underworld’ films, I found it odd – and a bit disappointing – to see her reduced to the role of the protagonist's fretful wife.
Ribisi's novel strategy for transcending his miscasting as a clichéd white-trash villain is to adopt a bizarre, high-pitched accent, presumably Southern in origin but unlike any Southern accent I've ever witnessed.
Ben Foster plays Wahlberg's best friend, an ex-con and recovering alcoholic who seems doomed to relapse on both fronts, if only because he's being played by Ben Foster. Diego Luna, J.K. Simmons, Lukas Haas are underutilised in one-note roles.
I confess to be unfamiliar with the vagaries of illicit foreign-goods transport, but I have to think it's more exciting than what unfolds in ‘Contraband’.
No one expects it to rival the glamour and of, say, casino robbery, but Kormakur depicts smuggling with all the verve and panache of a tax audit.
The film's lone fireworks occur on land, during a stop-off in Panama City, when Wahlberg's character is forced by the local crime boss (Luna) in an armoured-car hold-up.
A heist-within-a-heist, if you will. But soon it's back on the boat, where the momentum ceases, and the movie sinks.
Star Rating: 2/5