Once considered the greatest smuggler in the country Chris Farraday (Mark Wahlberg) has left that world behind him, choosing instead to settle down with his wife Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and his two sons and pursue his small security system business. But Chris is conned into “one last job” when his brother-in-law botches a drug shipment for local dealer Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi) and everyone’s life is put in danger. Begrudgingly he boards a ship to Panama with the intent of smuggling in counterfeit bills but the situation ends up getting far more dangerous than he expected thanks to someone he trusted like family.
Contraband is not the action movie you’re probably expecting from the poster and trailers; save for one big action set piece, it’s all suspense and tension as Chris and his crew try to smuggle and break laws under the watchful eye of the ship captain (an excellent J.K. Simmons). Although there are moments of tension and some interesting looks into the world of contraband (the method for testing the counterfeit money was fascinating), on the whole it’s a dry run of a movie that isn’t too and interesting and, despite its “gritty” take, ends up being insanely far fetched (the whole Panama sequence is done with a specific time to meet, but the activities involved wouldn’t fit in that time frame).
What Contraband does have going for it, however, is its casting specifically in its villains. Ribisi is excellent and entertaining as the over the top drug dealer, really committing to the part in a way that would make Nicolas Cage proud. Ben Foster, who plays Chris’ former partner Sebastian, is also reliably great and is far more fascinating to watch than Wahlberg as the lead. Those two performances and characters alone save the movie from being a total wash.
This is January so standards are low, and going by that I guess Contraband does stand out. It’s shot well and has some good performances, so instantly it catapults to the top of its competition (The Devil Inside, for instance). However this is an empty shell of a movie, with no characters to root for and an overall story that has interesting moments rather than being interesting as a whole. Wait for it to show up on FX in a couple of years..