Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, Caleb Landry Jones and J.K. Simmons
El Camino '14
"If my doctor told me I had six minutes to live, I would type a little faster" - Issac Asimov
Review By: Jordan Nicholson
Contraband… what to say about Contraband? Well, of the pile of movies stacked in the corner of my room waiting to be watched and reviewed, I can honestly say I was looking forward to this one least. Call it a cinematic sixth sense if you like, but I have a knack for picking out the movies that will just… hurt. It’s not that this movie is all that terrible—I’ve seen worse—but every second of it felt wrong somehow, as if my body were rejecting it, like a bad organ transplant.
Mark Wahlberg plays Chris Farraday, a former smuggler who has gone straight. But his idyllic new life is shattered when a mobster (Giovanni Ribisi) threatens his family, and he has no choice but to do one last job. Sound familiar? The “one last job” premise is probably the most overused in all of cinema. You’ve seen this movie before a half a dozen times, and the past five viewings weren’t that great to begin with.
Everyone was just sort of going through the motions on this film. There is no character development or even establishment really. The film just started and then ended, and nothing really happened. Sure there was a lot of plot going on, some fist fights and explosions, but in terms of characterization it was about as eventful as a trip to the grocery store. Even after just seeing the movie, I can’t think of a single adjective to describe any of the characters. The film relies on your having seen the movies it’s ripping off to understand its empty, archetypal characters. Without that prior knowledge you will be completely lost in this film.
The acting is sufficient but utterly lifeless. It’s always frustrating to see good actors in such two-dimensional roles when you know they can do better. Wahlberg seemed bored and at times even a little smug, as if he knows he’s better than this. I thought Ribisi was completely over-the-top and wondered why he was the only character in the movie with the location-appropriate New Orleans accent. And Beckinsale was just annoying, crying every other scene, continually being threatened and beat up but still never managing to make me care enough to not want the bad guys to just kill her.
To be fair, there have been plenty of movies with stories just as tired and actors just as bored. What really sets this movie apart is tricky to pin down. A big problem is that the filmmakers didn’t really seem to know what kind of movie they wanted to make. It was billed as an action-thriller, but there isn’t much action in it (and even less suspense). If anything it’s more akin to a heist movie than an action movie, which will disappoint anyone going to see it for the intricate gun battles promised in the trailer.
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So, to make a long story short: this movie was not good. It is lacking in every category and reeks of mediocrity in ways I would not have thought possible. It is compelling enough to keep you from turning off the TV if there’s nothing else on late at night, but not enough to remember the next morning.
Surprisingly, I thought the special features were really well done. The feature about the film’s stunts to be fascinating and informative, and the “making of” feature explained the director’s vision much better than the film itself did. In fact, if you do rent the movie, I might even recommend just watching the special features. They are vastly more compelling than the film.