Mark Wahlberg is at his best in action films, and Contraband
is no exception. He still has those impressive abs and still moves with agility and power. The fault with this film doesnít lie with him Ė or the other actors: itís the script. The settings are appropriately gritty and seedy. We see New Orleans away from the tourist-luring French Quarter and in the working-class, barely-recovered-from-Katrina neighborhoods. Much of the action takes place in the dark, oily hallways of a container ship on its way to Panama. Panama City may be sunny, but the camera takes us through dingy streets and slums to the cityís underbelly. Itís the world of drug smugglers, thieves, and murderers. Itís a world that Wahlbergís character, Chris Farraday, has tried to leave behind.
Farraday had the reputation for being the Houdini of smugglers, but heís gone straight since marrying Kate (Kate Beckinsale) and having two sons. Heís established a successful home security business, and everything is going just fine until his wifeís screw-up brother, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones) fumbles a drug deal. He was supposed to smuggle a large amount of cocaine from Panama for a particularly sadistic boss, Briggs, brilliantly played by Giovanni Ribisi. The ship was boarded by U. S. Customs, and Andy threw it overboard. Now Briggs wants his head, so Andy turns to Chris. Family loyalty and Chrisís deep love for his wife and kids makes him reluctantly agree to help. Now, he and his family become targets also unless he can repay the cash value of the cocaine. Chris refuses to smuggle drugs. Instead, he goes after counterfeit money Ė a lot of it- thatís been printed in Panama. He gets himself hired onto the same Panama-bound container ship, rounds up some old friends to help out, and immediately gets recognized and demoted to rug-cleaner by the Captain (J. K. Simmons). Captain Camp is no angel himself. In fact, it appears that just about everybody has a finger in the smuggling pie in one way or another. Meanwhile, back at home, Chrisís best friend Sebastian (Ben Foster) is supposed to be looking out for his wife and kids. Unfortunately, no one in this crime drama is very smart, so nothing goes as planned. There are double and triple crosses Ė some expected and some not. So much for honor among thieves.
If you spend more than two seconds thinking about it, youíll realize that the logistics of the whole thing donít add up. The director decides to give us hints about how Chris will pull off the impossible, but doesnít show us any of the ďbigĒ final heist. We only see the end result and are left to wonder how one man could prepare and execute such a mentally and physically challenging plan all by himself. The script doesnít allow for that kind of time. Itís true that his friends help out before anything goes down, but they donít seem to be involved in physically making it happen. I guess the ďHoudiniĒ reference was supposed to explain it. In spite of the holes in logic, the actors do a fine job. Apart from Wahlberg and Ribisi, Lukas Haas stands out as Chrisís anxiety-ridden partner in crime, Danny.
The action is intense and nonstop, and the preview audience seemed quite satisfied with the film. There is very little humor in this film, and a little bit would have been welcome to dilute the intensity and gore. There are enough twists and turns to keep you involved, but it could have been a much better film.