Contraband is a movie that… misses the mark. Like a good joke told with bad timing, or a nice picture that’s just out of focus, this is a movie that wants to be a clever heist movie and/or a mob passion play, and unfortunately, it’s just not quite clever enough to fully achieve either. Which isn’t to say it’s a bad movie. There’s plenty to entertain, particularly the cast, but there’s not enough here for me to recommend people leave their houses in the winter…
The movie revolves around a smuggler, played by Mark Wahlberg, who’s gone legit. He used to be quite the smuggling rock star, as we’re told, but now he’s happy to work an ordinary job as an alarm system installer. Unfortunately for him, his brother-in-law is a moron who hasn’t “quit the game” and he botches a run, leaving the entire family in danger. Thus, Wahlberg gets pulled in to do the clichéd “one last job” in order to get him off the hook for the money he owes.
What follows is a combination of a mob-movie and a bank heist flick. Not that they’re robbing a bank… they’re attempting to smuggle counterfeit money into the States onboard a cargo ship. But the all the timing things, all the secret tricks, all the “connections”… this feels very much a part of that genre.
Which is actually where this movie begins to fall apart for me. The “level of difficulty” never seemed right with this “job”. Things were either way easier than they should have been (to the point where you smell a Hollywood gloss-over of a problem that in real life would be much more complicated) or absolutely blowing up in their face (to the point where you’re like, wow it’s a bummer they decided to pull this smuggling job in the middle of armaggedon, huh?)
Things are often too simple here… I was often struck with the thought, well, it can’t be THAT easy. A phone call, a greased palm, turning the corner jussssst as someone walks by, hidden compartments left and right. There were several instances where problems were too easily resolved, or not given their just due. On the other hand, things at times go impossibly wrong. Some little detail is missed and they wind up in the middle of the equivalent of a small theatre military exchange. The bad guys want to menace, a little, but it winds up being close to a hostage situation. They tinker with the ship a bit and it almost crashes. That sort of thing.
Everything always seemed a little off in one degree or another to me. It was always a little dumbed down simple, or a little too batshit crazy. It never quite got the “just right”.
It didn’t really find the “Just Right” with the gangster angles, either, but it was closer. There’s double-crossing and low life punks causing havoc because they’re violent and want to be tough. There’s a couple of scenes where its fun to watch Wahlberg slap someone down, Ribisi is great as a scumbag, and I think David O’Hara could order off of a drive-thru menu and it would be freaking scary. But there’s still a few too many “Why would he do that”s and “Oh Cmon”s for my liking.
Especially the very end, which I saw coming for miles. Those of you who have seen it will know what I mean.
I also have to note that the frame is never still. It’s something that probably wont even register for a lot of people, but it bugged the hell out of me. It wasn’t exactly “shaky cam”, but shots were always zooming in and out… I’m sure it was a stylistic choice, but it left me feeling like I was watching a rookie DP.
Fortunately the cast is very watchable, and I’m more than content to watch movies centering on crime and violence. There are some legitimately funny moments, and a couple of the plot strand resolutions are very fun. I had to dock it way too many points along the way to say it was very good or anything – but you wont hate yourself if you do go see it, you won’t regret your redbox dollars or putting it in your Netflix queue, and if you wind up clicking through the channels one day and stumble upon it on cable… you might even enjoy it.
B- No es muy bueno, but it’s not too bad either.