Director Baltasar Kormakur brings you a Hollywood facelift of Reykjavik-Rotterdam, a gritty Icelandic thriller in which he played the lead role. It’s that film you’ve likely seen advertised on many a double-decker bus, it’s Contraband. Chris (Wahlberg) is an ex-smuggler who’s now chosen a righteous path running his own home-security company to provide for his wife Kate (Beckinsale) and two children. All is swell in Chris‘ life until his liability of a brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) botches up a drugs deal, thus severely pissing off a gang of ruthless thugs. In order to keep his family out of harm’s way Chris must take the only heroic option and finish off the job himself.
What sounds like a white-knuckle, nail-biting tale of desperation turns out to be a workmanlike time-passer that will probably disappear into the chasms of your consciousness the moment you’ve left the cinema. It’s dull for a number of reasons the most glaring of which is the writing. Like an eager child desperate to rip his new toy from its packaging the film hastily welcomes you with some rushed expositional scenes. It slaps some cardboard cut-out characters in front of you, gives them a brief bit of back story and then before you can say ‘punch to the face’ someone’s been punched in the face for some reason or another. That’s very much the case here: things just happen to people for no reason other than to accelerate the story. There is practically no reason for Chris‘ family to exist other than to be emotional bait: Beckinsale’s character Kate does very little to transcend the damsel-in-distress archetype and her children are pretty much props in cute floppy wigs.
On the whole the performances are competent, but they don’t do much to breathe life into the uninspired material. Wahlberg displayed an engaging sense of fragility in his early career (See Boogie Nights) but these days he seems to be taking a leaf out of Sam Worthington’s book. In his recent performances he expresses very little humanity or joy and has the fixed expression of a man who’s constantly inhaling an unpleasant odour. The ever-reliable Ben Foster gives a decent performance as Chris’ sly best friend Sebastian; channelling some believability into an empty shell of a character who arbitrarily has an insatiable appetite for lollypops. Giovanni Ribisi is hamming it up to the absolute maximum here as drug lord Tim Briggs (the name alone is enough to send shivers down one’s spine). It’s an over-the-top, caricatured performance but Ribisi seems to be having so much fun with it that it’s easily excusable. But even if every member of the ensemble gave the performance of their career that still wouldn’t be enough to make the characters feel authentic. The clunky script is mainly to blame for this; lending nearly every character a monotonous personality where the word ‘fuck’ is used as syllabic padding at regular intervals.
As a cinematic experience the film is numb and if you don’t take much interest in crashing cars and spraying bullets there isn’t a substantial amount to be taken away from it. To make matters worse the film is just ugly to look at with a grainy quality to the picture and a camera that frantically shakes around desperate to capture the meat-headed action.
The film isn’t terrible; in fact it’s not even bad, it’s just an unremarkable testosterone-fuelled romp with some mildly exciting moments. If you like your action movies with more brawn than brains then go and see Contrabland, I mean Contraband.