The trailer for Contraband put me to sleep. How many times have we seen an action movie where a former crook is drawn back into the life he left to save his family? That, coupled with the January release date, usually a kiss of death, had me going into the Baltasar Kormákur-directed film with expectations suitably low. As it turns out Contraband, which stars Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster and Giovanni Ribisi, has plenty of entertaining elements. It’s noticeably flawed but those problems aren’t fatal and you get exactly what you paid for. Two hours of forgettable, forgivable entertainment.

The main issue hindering Contraband is that simply too much happens in the film, which is odd considering the first act is so straightforward. Retired, world-class smuggler Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) is forced to pull off one last job when his brother-in-law, played by X-Men First Class‘s Caleb Landry Jones, screws up a deal for an evil ex-con played with delirious vigor by Giovanni Ribisi. Once that’s set up, the film becomes a plethora forced obstacles for Chris to overcome, totally derailing that main storyline.

On their own, some of these scenes – such as a huge shootout and chase with a mob boss hilariously portrayed by Diego Luna – are exciting. However they add very little to the story of a talented and conflicted crook trying to help out his wife’s brother. There’s even an almost Speed 2 boat scene that is, literally, pointless. Maybe it adds an element of action to what could have been a character piece but it’s unnecessary. In fact, the whole second act feels like an overly expensive afterthought. There’s fun to be had, but it’s totally tangential to what’s begging to be the focus.

Where the film shines – as much as it can – is when Chris is in his element and actually smuggling. Aaron Guzikowski‘s adapted screenplay shows some inventive and intriguing ways characters transport and conceal various different piece of contraband. There’s even a great character moment where Chris reveals he likes his criminal life more than the straight one he was leading. Unfortunately, that thread is totally dropped just when you think we’re going to delve into his conflict coupled with the intricacies and joy of smuggling. Nope. All of that takes a back seat to a pile of unneeded action that draws away from the best Contraband has to offer.

Those smart, heist elements continue to be sprinkled across the whole movie, though, which actually kind of redeems its bloated second act with a satisfying last third. That’s in large part to a not-surprisingly good performance by Ben Foster as Chris’s best friend and a few very telegraphed plot twists. By that time, the film is too much Bad Boys 2 and not enough Ocean’s Eleven. In a film about smuggling, I wish it would stick to that. Instead, it’s almost as if the filmmakers were given too much rope.

/Film rating: 5 out of 10

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About the Author

Germain graduated NYU's Tisch School of the Arts Cinema Studies program in 2002 and won back to back First Place awards for film criticism from the New York State Associated Press in 2006 and 2007.

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