Mark Wahlberg is Chris Farraday, a once world-class smuggler who has now gone legit and lives a peaceful existence with his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and their children in New Orleans, where he runs a domestic security business. His suburban bliss is interrupted when (wouldn’t you know it) he’s forced back into his old life when Kate’s younger brother Andy (X-Men: First Class graduate Caleb Landry Jones) lands himself in hot water after ditching a consignment he’s been smuggling over to the US for mob lackey Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) when U.S. Customs intervene.
Briggs is hardly what you’d describe as the forgiving type, and he insists on being paid back everything owed to him. Farraday (with Andy in-tow, alongside members from his old gang) hitch a ride on a haulage ship en-route to Panama with the hope of returning home with millions of counterfeit bills. Things don’t quite run as smoothly as expected and Farraday must use all his skills and resources to pull off the mission while his family, being watched over by best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster), avoid the belligerent Briggs.
With it’s swooping atmospheric night-time aerial shots and roaming, urgent camerawork there’s a touch of Michael Mann during the early scenes of Contraband, but director and actor Baltasar Kormákur (incidentally, the star of the original version and making his US debut here) soon ditches any of the Heat auteur’s pretensions and cranks things up to a broader level, although this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Sure, you could spend the duration of the film’s running time again unpicking all the gaping plot holes you’ve just witnessed, but in hiring Barry Ackroyd (the current go-to DP for those filmmakers wanting to draw out the visceral thrills) the film zips along at an exciting momentum, and is never less than enjoyable. It constantly veers from the daft to the outright ridiculous (managing to somehow squeeze in the craziest of shoot-outs in the middle) but it only comes a cropper towards the very end, with its ludicrously-contrived ending. It’s so stupid in fact that even the concessions to common sense earlier on in the film (at one point, Farraday and Co. manage to smuggle a van into the ship they’re using, without detection) don’t compare.
The man who once answered to ‘Marky’ is fine as the ex-smuggling mastermind, and he’s more than capable of delivering the stern, tough guy stuff as well as playing the caring, dutiful husband and father. It doesn’t hurt that he’s surrounded by a great supporting cast, including a jittery, psychotic black market dealer played with a side order of ham by Diego Luna, and the ever-dependable JK Simmons as the ship’s amusingly crusty Captain. His character’s payoff is genuinely hilarious and Simmons is the kind of actor who knows how to play this part to perfection. Giovanni Ribisi (sounding like he’s modelled his vocal performance on Tweedie Pie) is a less welcoming presence, and his mannered delivery (a regular issue with the actor) means that there’s always a slight concern that you’re seeing the ‘acting’ though his performance.
Needlessly convoluted at times, Contraband is still a fun action B-movie. It’s light on logic but full of energy and with an unwavering desire to entertain, whatever the costs.