If ever there were a typical January movie, it’s Contraband, a film so dreary (and downright distasteful) that no studio would think of releasing it in December, when all eyes are focused on quality. I never saw the 2008 Icelandic film on which it’s based, but I presume it must have been better than this, to persuade savvy producers that it was worth remaking in English. Baltasar Kormákur, who starred in the original, directed this adaptation.
The setting is New Orleans. Mark Wahlberg plays a former criminal who, like his best pal Ben Foster, has gone straight. Then his wife’s kid brother fumbles a drug-smuggling run and winds up owing big bucks to a loose-cannon thug (Giovanni Ribisi) who not only threatens him but his entire family—including Wahlberg’s wife and kids. What else can the guy do but suck it up and pull “one last job?”
Problems begin when the caper itself becomes cumbersome and, ultimately, preposterous. (Although he’s supposed to be a savvy guy, Wahlberg repeatedly fails to predict the many obstacles in his path.) This is exacerbated by a wide array of unappealing and sleazy characters; by the end, I didn’t even feel comfortable rooting for the so-called hero. Virtually all the actors go down with the ship, helpless to rise above a ponderous screenplay by Aaron Guzikowski. I wish Wahlberg, Foster, Ribisi, Kate Beckinsale, J.K. Simmons, Lukas Haas, and Diego Luna brighter prospects in 2012.
A good caper movie should be light on its feet, but this one bears the weight of a heavy tread. Contraband left a bad taste in my mouth, which is not what I’d call a ringing endorsement. But it is what I’ve come to expect from major studio releases in January.