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Contraband—movie review

by Leonard Maltin
January 13, 2012 1:05 AM
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Mark Wahlberg Ben Foster in Contraband
Patti Perret - Universal Studios

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?”

Giovanni Ribisi - Mark Wahlberg in Contraband
Patti Perret - Universal

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.

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  • Ask Erena | November 30, 2013 1:05 PMReply

    Hi there. I might be a bit late with my review of the movie, but I dont get this bad criticism at all. Yes, I immediately paralleled this movie with "Gone in 60 seconds" (being one of my favorite movies), but let's not underestimate great cast, awesome soundtracks and Mark Walhberg himself. I thought the movie was very intense, kind of predictable, very "Hollywood" like, yet extremely entertaining. Definitely would watch it again.

  • Alexandra Ash | March 18, 2012 8:47 AMReply

    I wrote a blog entry titled 'Why "Contraband" made me very fucking angry'-

  • rich | January 30, 2012 7:46 PMReply

    nonsense..this was a great movie full of supense

  • | January 29, 2012 7:12 PMReply

    You're not missing out on much. It is a B movie at it's best. So, there. No action worth noting. No noting of any action worth taking. Capiche?

  • belinda | January 21, 2012 8:38 AMReply

    one of the worst movies ever.

  • Brett | January 18, 2012 2:14 AMReply

    From a distance, this movie looks pretty ugly.

  • Jewel | January 14, 2012 9:57 PMReply

    I went and watched this movie the day it came out and i thought it was incredable, i never knew what was coming next and i was shocked to see Sebastian turn into a bad guy! I would reccomend this movie to people who like action and who want to be biting there nails the whole time:)

  • mike schlsesinger | February 3, 2012 6:24 PM

    Andrew, please! Anybody who walks into a movie with Ben Foster and is surprised when he turns out to be a bad guy must not have left the house in the past ten years! (But seriously, yes, it IS a spoiler, if not much of one, and everyone should be careful when they're replying.)

  • Andrew Skapars | January 15, 2012 11:48 AM

    Jewel, you just ruined the movie for me, screw you.....

  • Norm | January 13, 2012 11:47 PMReply

    Rewite: Wahlberg has 3 brothers , whose drug ridden lives have changed them into sub-creatures, Beckinsale must put the vampire voodoo on them before the thirteenth at midnite. Simmons, has a terminal smoking habit and is also changing into a sub-creature...Lucas Haas hides in a Amish tenement, afraid for his life, but he wants to be a sub-creature too..meanwhile Walhberg who plays pro football when not putting collars on his brothers , decides life is too tough , and finds peace at the Springhill Puppy Farm...His new name...Snoopy...Not a good story line, but it gets a paycheck...

  • Jeff Heise | January 13, 2012 7:09 PMReply

    Gee, a movie in which the main character, who has sworn off a life of crime has to go back into it to save a brother who is probably dumber than a bag of hammers...sounds original to me, if you haven't seen GONE IN 60 SECONDS, THE POPE OF GREENWICH VILLAGE and other movies with the same basic plot. I can see why this was dumped into January-I hope all the actors have a better end than beginning of this year.

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