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Contraband Is Wildly Improbable, But Decent Nonetheless

Directed by Baltasar Kormákur
Written by Aaron Guzikowski based on the film Reykjavik-Rotterdam written by Arnaldur Indriðason and Óskar Jónasson
Universal, 2012

It’s not too often that you see a movie from Iceland remade, but that’s what we have here.  Baltasar Kormákur was a producer on that film, and here he remakes it as director.  Mark Wahlberg, now an accomplished producer, probably has a career that is as successful as anyone’s in the history of film.  His Closest to the Hole Productions has given us Entourage, In Treatment, How to Make It in America and Boardwalk Empire,  and his career as an actor has been way more stellar than most people give credit.  Sure, he’s an “everyman” kind of guy and doesn’t display much range, but some actors can get away with it because they stay in the confines of that zone and always knock it out of the park.  That’s why he’s as bankable as they come.

The blandly-titled Contraband is not an exceptional movie by any means.  It’s just watchable in the kind of way that your everyday garden-variety action movie that shows up on HBO is.

Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) is a former smuggler who has settled down with his wife Kate (and if your wife is Kate Beckinsale, that’s really, really easy to do), and has a couple of boys.  Kate’s brother Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) is still smuggling, using ships carrying legitimate stuff, and has to throw a big load of drugs into the ocean when Customs comes calling.  The Customs incident gets him in trouble with drug dealer Tim Briggs (the always-fun Giovanni Ribisi, pretty much reprising his My Name Is Earl recurring character), who likes smashing things with his truck at any given opportunity, thus Andy and his partner are sent to the hospital, and Chris finds himself needing to get back into the life to pay Briggs off.

He enlists the help of his friend Sebastian (the always great Ben Foster), who runs a legit construction service, but appears to be indebted to major gangster Jim Church (David O’Hara), so he wants in on the action.  Chris visits his imprisoned brother Bud (William Lucking), who can still pull strings outside of prison, and the deal is to use a freighter to get a bunch of counterfeit money in Panama and smuggle it back avoiding Customs and the watchful, corrupt eye of Captain Camp (J.K. Simmons, in full comic dickhead mode).  Chris and Sebastian muster a crew to help Chris out on the boat, including newly married Danny Raymer (Lukas Haas).

Briggs poses a constant threat to Chris’ family while he’s gone, giving violent reminders that he’s going to kill them if he doesn’t come through.  Sebastian is really the only defense back home.  And of course, the time-sensitive collection of counterfeit money has its problems, which leads to a rather non-stop action joyride for awhile, where the movie is at its best.  The thirty or forty minutes of Chris’ time in Panama are pretty exciting, because it has a “what else can go wrong?” feel and a race against the clock to get back to the boat and not get caught.  Then cue the double-crosses and twists.  And a lot of severe improbability, but it works overall because it makes things pretty exciting.

Overall this is a solid picture and I don’t think anyone inclined to see it will be disappointed.  You have a lot of fantastic character actors in this, and as always, Wahlberg is more than happy to allow others to shine while he does his usual, consistent work.  With the movie’s release in January, I expected this to be a garbage dump, but as last September proved, I believe studios are finally realizing that there’s money to be made in these typically lost months.  A movie like this, in the past, would have been released in March or April, but now competition has gotten fierce in those months.

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