By Tressa Eckermann, Senior Staff Writer
“Contraband,” the new Mark Wahlberg film, works best if you go in with low expectations.
I wasn’t expecting much when I sat down in the theater. My motivations for seeing the movie were purely superficial. Mark Wahlberg being himself (snarky, angry, confusing, bulging muscles, etc.) and because I have a rule—see anything with Giovanni Ribisi—I found myself sitting in a relatively full theater on a Monday afternoon.
The plot is pretty basic and doesn’t really matter. Chris (Wahlberg) is a former smuggler who left the trade to raise his two sons with his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and run a security company. He and his best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster in full on sleazy charm mode) are pulled back into the business when Chris’ young brother-in-law Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) screws up and gets in deep with psychotic drug smuggler Tom Briggs (Ribisi).
What I wasn’t expecting was a movie that was tightly directed, fast-paced and actually pretty darn exciting. Set in both Panama and New Orleans, the atmosphere is heavy and lends itself perfectly to the nervous energy. Director Baltasar Kormákur spends a good chunk of the film set on a charter ship, which gives the movie a claustrophobic feeling.
“Contraband,” like so many other action films, works best when it’s stacking the odds against the hero. By the time he’s helping a Panama gangster pull a job, you know things just aren’t going to turn out well. Some of the most nerve-wracking scenes take place on that boat, and there is a scene where the film really picks up that takes place in the streets of Panama.
You can see most of the twists coming from a mile away, but they are handled so well that you really don’t care. This is a movie you go to see for fun.
Most of that fun can be attributed to Ribisi, who chews scenery like it’s dinner at a five star restaurant. With his bizarre nasal voice and scumbag look, he steals almost every scene he’s in and is the true standout of the movie.
Wahlberg is still a great action star and he shows us with “Contraband” that although he’s long ago perfected that snarky persona, it’s still a lot of fun to watch.
Sure, “Contraband” is one of the most implausible movies around, but it’s very entertaining and engaging. The characters are a touch contrived, as is the script (this is a plot we have all seen before), but it’s a good way to spend a few mindless hours.
Though we’re not exactly dealing with the best movie of the year, “Contraband” is a fun escape with some nice acting (thank heavens for Giovanni Ribisi) and fun action sequences that left me with a few less fingernails.