Playing a reformed cargo smuggler sucked back into the game, Mark Wahlberg is the star of Contraband, a fairly entertaining remake of the 2008 Icelandic thriller Reykjavik-Rotterdam.
And a reliable star he is. Audiences develop relationships with actors over time, through good scripts and bad; this one’s neither good nor bad, exactly. But Wahlberg has the presence, the glower and the laconic line readings to guide us through a mess of pain, painlessly.
The faces you remember in Contraband, however, belong to two of the more indelible character actors in modern movies — not the most versatile, but when the roles call for it, the skeeziest. Ben Foster, the shifty-eyed psycho in the 3:10 to Yuma remake, plays the Wahlberg figure’s friend and partner in crime. A nasty drug lord, owed money by the protagonist’s hapless brother-in-law, is portrayed by Giovanni Ribisi. Foster and Ribisi beady-eyeing everybody in the same picture! It’s almost more weaseling than one picture can take.
The earlier film’s settings were Reykjavik and Rotterdam; director Baltasar Kormakur’s remake goes for New Orleans and Panama (largely with New Orleans masquerading as Panama). A botched smuggling job lands the brother-in-law on the wrong side of Briggs (Ribisi), forcing Farraday (Wahlberg) into a contraband job involving counterfeit bills to be fetched in Panama and hidden, somewhere, on the cargo ship back up to Louisiana. Kate Beckinsale is Farraday’s wife, who gets roughed up pretty badly in Contraband.
The low-level strengths of the picture, its stripped-down budget and rough-edged milieu, are brought out and then undercut by Kormakur’s penchant for hand-held telephoto lensing and jib-jab cutting. The technique is in the interest of you-are-there immediacy and tension, but before long the camera movements play like tics and affectation. It’s a pretty crazy and overstuffed story anyway, though Wahlberg acquits himself forcefully and well. And yet Farraday’s just another piece of plot. Maybe we all are. But movies like Contraband aren’t really into existentialism; they’re about what happens when twitchy, raging character men like Foster and Ribisi, along with stalwart under-player J.K. Simmons as the cargo ship’s dour captain, go up against a movie star assured enough to make a little something out of not much.
—MCT, Tribune Media Service Respond: firstname.lastname@example.org