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Review – Contraband

19 May 2012
Shame they couldn’t smuggle in some more action
When reformed smuggler Chris Farraday is coaxed into pulling off one last heist to save his family from sundry undesirables, he sets about the unenviable task of smuggling a car-load of super-notes out of Panama. Tension ensues.

As you’ve probably guessed, your enjoyment of Contraband will correlate directly with your partiality toward the heist genre. While this aint Ocean’s Eleven, there’s a certain earthy quality to both the smuggling and stakes.

Alternatively, if the nine o’clock news is your typical medium for all things thievery, Contraband’s unusual locales and all star cast should just about steal your attention.

Ultimately, Contraband is a peculiar beast. It enjoys a 15A rating but there’s zero sex or gore to speak of, sorry folks! Admittedly, there’s the occasional bout of explosive expletives from Wahlberg, and their infrequency adds colour. Otherwise, they’s naught especially racy about this plodding smuggler.

God knows the action fails to entice. Barring a singular slow motion eruption of fire, shrapnel and, uh, door, there’s only a smattering of fisticuffs and a handful of stunts to keep your seat’s edge occupied.

Indeed, the promise of a super-tanker collision looms. But, while you’ll await this impact with baited breath and drooling, slack-jawed anticipation, the payoff disappoints.

Kate Beckinsale is pretty

Please note: I AM willing to give Contraband a buy here. Sinking a ship like the S.S. Belatrix just for celluloid seems needless, even for me...

Speaking of unusual things for me to say, the locations certainly impress in Contraband. Though New Orleans provides a homely environment, the narrow confines of the cargo ship’s hull add to the encroaching tension as border patrol close in on Faraday’s mischief.

The city of Panama is the real star however, with its twisting towers, lush green backdrops and futuristic skyline.

Elsewhere, in a largely successful effort to distance itself from other gritty but dumb crime capers, Contraband occasionally likes to get its “Science” on. Faraday’s resourceful implementation of a school-level comprehension of basic chemicals leads to numerous “Ah Haaaa...” and “I see...” moments.

Even at its worst, Contraband is at least sensitive to audience trends, favouring a sharp, thoughtful protagonist over the juiced up action heroes of bygone eras.

Giovanni Ribisi is scary

Another attempt to patch the pedestrian pace and plotting comes via an all star cast. Mark Wahlberg. Kate Beckinsale. Giovanni Ribisi. J.K. Simmons. Ben Foster. Caleb Landry Jones. Luke Hass. Unfortunately, despite Ribisi’s monstrosity, Foster’s suspect brooding and Simmons’ innate brilliance, Contraband remains the Mark Wahlberg show.

Normally, this is cause for celebration. Wahlberg’s obvious charisma and appeal make him an ideal choice. And flashes of humour and violent outbursts lend character to the reformed smuggler. Lamentably, there’s no avoiding the fact Farraday is a straight laced, by the books hard-man-with-a-heart-of-gold cut-out.

Marky Mark is Marky

Had it been a template more befitting Wahlberg’s foul mouthed misbehaviour, Contraband’s 109 minutes would have been infinitely more enjoyable.

Unfortunately, a by the numbers narrative with conventional twists and a deficiency of dynamic sequences diminish what might have been an exciting couple of hours. Consequently, it sits in that awkward movie limbo, not shrewd enough to be powerful drama and not ambitious enough to be an electrifying thriller.
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