Dir. Baltasar Kormákur, US/UK/France, 2012, 110 mins
Review by James Bartlett
Chris (Wahlberg) has gone straight. He and his best friend Sebastian (Foster) are out of the smuggling game, and now Chris has a gorgeous wife, Kate (Beckinsale) and a couple of kids. But that’s all got to change, hasn’t it?
A frantic call from Kate’s brother, wannabe-smuggler Andy (Landry-Jones) brings bad news. Just before the tanker he was sailing on was raided by Homeland Security, he threw a precious stash overboard – and now crazy drug hard man Tim (Ribisi) is looking for payback.
Taking a deep breath and returning to his old stamping grounds, Chris visits Tim and asks him to go easy on Andy, who has already had a trip to hospital. But Tim isn’t up for negotiations – though he does have another way Chris can pay back the debt and make sure everyone stays safe and sound: one more smuggling run down to Panama.
Determined not to smuggle drugs, a reluctant Chris tells Sebastian to assemble a gang on the next tanker out of New Orleans. He and Andy sign up for the crew – their plan is to collect massive packets of counterfeit currency and smuggle them back into the good old US of A.
But it’s not going to be that easy. The tanker’s Captain (JK Simmons) is a neat-freak who hates Chris and his jailed father too, and then when they arrive in Panama they are forced to make another deal with crazy gang leader Gonzalo (Diego Luna) and join in a security van heist – all while the tanker is getting ready to depart. Back at home, Ribisi is threatening Kate and the kids, and Sebastian seems to have some secrets of his own. So, can Chris and his guys get back home safely with the money?
Seemingly an action thriller, Contraband actually ends up being more of a drama where the hero is somewhere else – either in Panama or on board a massive tanker motoring back across the ocean. There’s no real “heist” here; everything is organised easily and quickly by other people, and though there is action, Marky Mark never really gets his hands dirty.
Despite New Orleans-Panama being only a day’s journey by sea (apparently), the distance between home and away is literal. Wahlberg’s foe is absent, and the weird accent Ribisi uses really starts to sound more and more comic as he repeatedly threatens Kate. Despite Foster working hard there’s not enough emotional content either, and it all seems rather flat and unexciting.
Contraband was based on a 2008 Icelandic film, Reykjavik-Rotterdam, and you wonder what the original was like. Perhaps to a small, sea-going nation the tanker stuff felt more believable as a location.
Good actor or not, Wahlberg is certainly an intelligent producer. He was behind last year’s hit The Fighter and TV hits Boardwalk Empire, In Treatment and Entourage, but this project – also his baby – is a misfire.