Review: Contraband


Have you even wished that you could go back to a state of cinematic infancy? By that I refer to a tabula rasa of film knowledge, an entirely blank slate. You’ve never seen a movie before, you’ve never experienced a single action scene, and you’re entirely ignorant to each and every plot device, camera trick, and storytelling technique.

To my recollection, I have wished this only once, and that was after my viewing of Contraband: the perfect film for someone who has never seen a movie.

Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Rated: R
Release date: January 13, 2012

I’m sorry to become unconventional so early in the review, but I’d like us to play a little game, partially for your sake and mostly for mine (reviewing movies isn’t always fun). I’d like you to copy and paste the following down into a comment and fill in each blank with the absolute first thing that comes to mind. Be quick, don’t think.

Mark Wahlberg:
Past Crimes:
Path to Redemption:

Congratulations! If you’ve filled out the above, you’re one step closer to having written a movie better than Contraband! Why would I make such a ridiculous claim? Because the element that I’ve listed above completely an entirely describe the plot of the film, and no actual additional details are needed.

The film begins in the midst of an attempted smuggle only to see it go terribly wrong. Enter Sir Marks-a-Lot, who now has a family and an obnoxious brother-in-law who has screwed himself royally with a smuggling group. Markie Markia Marquez must then dive back into the world of his past crimes on a path of redemption and discover the betrayer in his midst. Oh, and someone important might or might not die.

Now, I could fill in those blanks above using some of the most obvious elements, but I’ll save you that horror. Indeed, Contraband seems to endeavor to reduce the smuggling film to a level more basic than it has ever been before, taking not only the most cliched elements from its own style but taking cliches from other genres as well. Pseudo-science that doesn’t make any sense? Gory fun that amounts to one scene of guys getting shot in the head? Action-comedy that is neither funny nor particularly full of action? A pattern quickly emerges, which is appropriate since the film seems so hell-bent on blazing the trails set out before it.

A movie that is simply unoriginal can be forgiven, but one that is this poorly shot, directed, and often acted puts Contraband in a new league entirely. While action scenes are mostly functional if completely standard, every other shot suffers from what I’m now going to call Itchy Trigger Finger Syndrome. Cameras enjoy zooming in to uncomfortable closeness for no apparent reason and do so erratically. If you happen to watch the film, wait for the first scene in the prison. Then pity sufferers of ITFS (and yourself, as well).

Now, for me Wahlberg built up a lot of affinity after The Fighter. All of that is gone now after his dead-eyed performance here. I’ll admit that he (along with every other character) was not given much of a foundation to build off of, but his performance amounts to little more than a man moving about on a screen. He could be any man, and were it not for his Boston accent creeping forward occasionally, you might forget he’s there.

At the risk of sounding like I myself lack creativity, I admit that I struggle to find anything positive to say about the film. Giovanni Ribisi is fun to watch and looks really ugly. Kate Beckinsale is in it, and she looks really pretty. She plays a tool of a character whose purpose is nothing more than a reason to bring about conflict, but she looks really good while doing that.

Contraband is just a bad movie. If you were to make the film that you’ve created down in the comments, I would very much recommend closing your eyes and watching whatever pictures play out in your mind. You’ll do better.

Matthew Razak – A film that thinks it’s more clever than it actually is is never a good thing. In fact it’s down right annoying. Contraband thinks it’s a really clever heist film well all it really is is a sub-par action flick. While Mark Wahlberg is tough enough to pull of his character it’s not that great a character to pull off. However, Giovanni Ribbisi once again steals the shows as a fantastic villain, and while the film’s twist (it’s basically a heist movie, it’s has to have twist) stinks there are a few redeemable features here and there. A good way to kill a lazy Sunday if you randomly find it on TV, but nothing more than that. 50 – Okay