by Ryan Hill
Mark Wahlberg is one of those actors who just can’t seem to break free of his low-rent action hero beginnings. After starring in duds like “The Big Hit” and “Shooter,” Wahlberg began adding quality films to his resume, notably his Oscar-nominated role in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.” “Contraband” marks a return to those early days, when Wahlberg was still mostly known as Marky Mark.
“Contraband” is yet another in a long line of heist films that are about that “one last job,” which is almost becoming a genre unto itself. Apparently there’s an unwritten rule that a film can’t feature likeable thieves in the middle of their career.
An American remake of the Icelandic film “Reyjcavik-Rotterdam,” “Contraband” stars Wahlberg as a retired smuggler who is pulled back in to save his brother-in-law, who dumped 10 pounds of cocaine on a run after Border Patrol boarded his boat.
After spending the first hour setting everything up, Wahlberg spends a good portion of the second half of the film on a slow boat to Panama, where he can pick up $15 million in counterfeit bills, leaving his wife (Kate Beckinsale) and children under the care of his best friend, while the drug lord (Gionvanni Ribisi) he’s trying to repay terrorizes them. Ribisi, who never met a voice he didn’t like, speaks with a Southern accent, yet another in a long line of accents he’s used in movies. He’s used so many different voices over the years that an argument could be made that Ribisi forgot how to speak in his normal voice years ago.
Directed with straight-to-DVD flair by Baltasar Kormakur, “Contraband” tries to look and feel like a Michael Mann film. He uses digital cameras, taking great care to get plenty of nighttime and overhead shots, all the way down to an armored car robbery that’s reminiscent of the opening robbery in “Heat.” Only in this case, the camera unnecessarily whirs around, taking you out of what little action there is, and the result is a movie that comes across as something Jason Statham would star in, not Wahlberg.
Like all of the other “one last job” films, “Contraband” tries to load itself up with twists and turns, but most of them are predictable and the movie takes itself way too seriously for them to be enjoyable. The film seems like it’s trying to come off as a character piece, with entirely too much dialogue and not enough action for a supposed action movie.
That approach could have worked if the supporting characters were colorful, but they’re all one-dimensional with exactly one hook to each of them. Add to that equation Mark Wahlberg acting like Mark Wahlberg and you get a film that’s entirely too slow and uninteresting for its own good.
It’s difficult to get excited about most films that come out at this time of year, since January is a dumping ground for Hollywood studios where film duds come to die. “Contraband” isn’t a complete disaster, but after starring in the outstanding David O. Russell film “The Fighter,” it feels like Wahlberg is slumming for a paycheck, even more so than when he starred in the dreadful “Max Payne.”
Grade: 2 out of 4
MPAA Rating: R for violence, pervasive -language and brief drug use
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Giovanni Ribisi, Kate Beckinsale
Studio: Universal Pictures