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Contraband
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Reviewed on 2012-01-13
RatedR
Received[2]  out of 4 stars
GenreAction / Crime / Drama
Websitehttp://www.contrabandmovie.net/
After being treated to some of the best movies of the year during the holiday season, the studios resort to form and use January as the dumping ground for marginal, low-caliber films.

This action thriller set in New Orleans from director Baltasar Kormakur stars Mark Wahlberg (“The Fighter”) and is a perfect fit for release during the first month of a new year when expectations are low. It explores the cutthroat underground world of international smuggling-full of desperate criminals, high stakes and big payoffs-where loyalty rarely exists and death is one wrong turn away.

Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) was considered a “Houdini” among world-class smugglers. You could count on him to always deliver the goods.

Chris gave up his life of crime long ago and turned into a legitimate entrepreneur. He set up his own business installing home security systems. He is happily married to Kate (Kate Beckinsale from “The Aviator” and “Pearl Harbor”) and is the proud father of two young boys.

His world is turned upside down when Kate’s younger brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones from “X-Men: First Class”), ends up in the hospital. Andy messed up when he was forced to dump over 10 pounds of smuggled cocaine to avoid being busted by CBP (U. S. Customs and Border Protection).

Andy’s ruthless and hot-headed boss, Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi from “Avatar” and “Public Enemies”) threatens to torture Andy. Chris decides to make one last smuggling run of counterfeit currency to clear his brother-in-law’s outstanding obligation.

Upon informing Briggs that he intends to make things right, Briggs gives Chris two weeks to repay Andy’s debt and extends his threat of bodily harm to Chris’s immediate family.

Chris quickly assembles a crew aboard a container ship bound for Panama City with the help of his best friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster from “The Mechanic”). Throughout the sea voyage, Chris is being watched by the suspicious Captain Camp (J. K. Simmons from “The Closer”).

Once the ship docks in Panama, it appears that the foolproof plan is on shaky ground as things quickly fall apart. Chris must use his rusty skills to successfully navigate a treacherous criminal network headed by Gonzalo (Diego Luna from “Milk”). He gets involved in the holdup of an armored vehicle carrying a priceless painting by Jackson Pollock. Chris is caught in the crossfire of a deadly gunfight between Gonzalo’s gang of thieves and a police SWAT team. Chris miraculously survives this unexpected obstacle while the clock is running on returning to the ship with the illegal contraband before it embarks on the return journey.

Back on the home front, Briggs and his gang of low-life cretins make a violent house call on Kate and the kids. Sebastian plays the hero by suggesting that Kate and the boys stay at his place for their own safety. Sebastian has an ulterior motive that is not revealed until the last act.

All the loose ends of the various storylines are tied up a little too neatly at the conclusion.

This American remake is based on the little known Icelandic film “Reykjavik-Rotterdam” that was Iceland’s official Academy Award submission in 2010 for Best Foreign Language Film. Reykjavik native Kormakur was the lead actor and one of the producers for that film.

Screenwriter Aaron Guzikowski in his filmmaking debut appears to have thrown all the contrived relationships and unlikely coincidences from the original film into a blender. The slick and convoluted reels of celluloid fall apart like a house of cards with huge helpings of incredulous, head-shaking implausibility.

The actors seem to be just going through their paces with very little emotion. Wahlberg has an aura of invincibility and displays his well-toned physique. Beckinsale is largely wasted in a throwaway role. Ribisi has the menacing presence and vocal chops to fulfill the villain role. Simmons is both tough and likable in giving the best performance amongst the supporting cast.

The cinematography leaves a lot to be desired with the picture quality in the poor to unsatisfactory range. The action set pieces were frenetically captured by an unstable handheld camera that makes the screen jiggle. The best tracking shots are the nighttime scenes of the New Orleans port and skyline, especially during the CBP busts utilizing helicopters and patrol boats.

Some of the dialogue is in Spanish with English subtitles.

With much better viewing choices at the multiplex of holiday holdovers, this ridiculous movie belongs on the back burner to be perused when available on DVD or a premium cable channel.

Review By:
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"

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