by Glenn Lovell
Mark Wahlberg, everybody’s favorite blue collar hero, is back in the cynical, convoluted “Contraband,” the first in what promises to be this year’s bumper crop of high-energy, low-concept thrillers. Wahlberg once again plays a semi-bad dude ‒ a onetime “world-class smuggler” ‒ who runs afoul of some really bad dudes who pull him back into a life of crime.
Yes, it’s a familiar dance. What makes it marginally less so is that Mark as New Orleans’ Chris Farraday doesn’t put up much of a squawk. Indeed, he can barely contain his glee over being drawn back into “the life.” As for wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale), treated like a punching bag while hubby is off bonding with his old crew, she’s a whole lot less thrilled by this turn of events. Who can blame the poor woman? By film’s end, she’s wrapped in plastic, flopping around at the bottom of a pool of fast-drying cement.
Directed by Iceland’s Baltasar Kormákur from his own 2008 crime caper, “Reykjavik-Rotterdam,” this new Wahlberg vehicle comes off as a messy amalgam of “The Departed” and a jacked-up “Fast and the Furious” installment. It’s preposterous, cliché-riddled and overlong. The camerawork is de rigueur twitchy, as if the guy behind the lens has just snorted several lines of blow. There’s method to this manic style, of course. The visuals are so overwrought they’re supposed to take our minds off the idiotic plotting and nonexistent pacing. Alas, in this case, they only manage to draw attention to the crater-like plot holes.
Farraday is cut from the same cloth as every urban Robin Hood; he’s Hollywood “dirty,” a principled crook who will peddle everything but drugs. At the moment, he’s cooling his heels as family man with home-security business. When his brother-in-law (Caleb Landry Jones) screws up on a cocaine delivery, Chris has to make good on the missing $700,000. So it’s back to work ‒ this time smuggling, not drugs, but $15 million in counterfeit bills from Panama. Why this route? his wife demands. In typically boneheaded thriller-movie logic, Chris replies, “There’s nothing else to do!” I guess a second mortgage was out of the question.
His oh-so-reassuring farewell: “Nothing’s going to happen ‒ I promise!”
A lot happens, including a game of hide-and-seek aboard a container ship bound for Panama, a couple of high seas interdictions by customs officials, and the world’s worst executed armored-car robbery, which nets a paint-splattered “tarp” worth $140 million. Hilariously, the armored-car heist and resultant firefight are wedged in as a last-minute quid pro quo ordered at gunpoint by a Panamanian loony named Gonzalo (Diego Luna, frothing at the mouth).
At least Wahlberg, who co-produced, had the smarts to surround himself with an interesting supporting cast, which includes Giovanni Ribisi as a hood whose nasally bark is a whole lot worse than his bite. A half-pint psycho modeled after Richard Widmark in “Kiss of Death,” Ribisi’s Briggs gets some of the best lines. “This ain’t your world no more ‒ you’re a tourist,” he tells our hero. “You can’t trade on status you don’t have.”
Wise counsel, for Wahlberg as well as Farraday.
CONTRABAND ✮✮ With Mark Walberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, Lukas Haas, Diego Luna, Caleb Landry Jones. Directed by Baltasar Kormákur; scripted by Aaron Guzikowski from the film “Reykjavik-Rotterdam.” 110 min. Rated R (for nonstop violence, profanity)